Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Boy Problem

First, you need to know my position.

--I am a writer, not a publisher or a bookseller.
--I am primarily a YA writer, but I write MG as well.
--I am female, sex and gender alike.
--So far, all of my finished novels, and certainly all of my published ones, have had male protagonists.
--95% of what I read is contemporary. I don't generally like SF/F.
--I generally prefer to read books with male protagonists
--About 70% of my reading is in YA.


Now.

People have been talking about the issue of boys in YA for a long time, but these discussions seem to have reached a head recently--one that I think has been a long time coming.

I want to make it clear that there are going to be exceptions to every single thing I say. One of the big points I'm trying to make in this post, in fact, is that generalizing doesn't fucking work. So please understand that none of what I will say is true 100% of the time, and your knowledge that there are exceptions to what I'm about to lay out might not invalidate what I'm saying. This is literature. Nothing is universal.

So.

The problem we're talking about is fairly simple: boys don't read YA. This isn't an issue of "boys don't read"--we're not talking about these boys. We're talking about avid readers, boys who ate up middle grade but go to adult fiction and non-fiction instead of passing through YA, and nobody really knows why.

I'm not an expert on this. I'm just a chick who writes, at least from my point of view, the kind of YA that is the closest that we have right now to "boy books," which is really just to say that my books have male main characters, because right now that is all we offer boys.

And it isn't enough.

I've been thinking about this a lot, and I've come up with a lot of theories for why boys aren't reading YA. Some of these probably aren't true. Maybe most of them aren't. But whether or not these are the root of the problems, they are issues that I'm seeing swept under the rug, and I believe they're truths we don't want to look at.

It's not all the writer's fault. We've all heard that publishers don't buy boy books--and 1. they do, and 2. why should they if they aren't selling--and it pisses me the fuck off how many boys there are who won't pick up a book with a girl main character or, heaven forbid, a book with a chick's name in the cover.

It's not entirely our fault. But it does start with us.

Here's what we did:

--We've stereotyped boys. Most boys in YA fit into four very particular categories.

1) The gay best friend. The gay best friend is sassy. He's also deeply damaged and vulnerable from the trauma of being gay. The girl--our main character, always--might be his only friend. He desperately needs her. Maybe he has a drug problem due to his inner torment.

2) The best guy friend. Practically like the gay best friend except he's straight, and he doesn't have inner torment. In fact, he's sweet, attentive, and as reliable as death/taxes. He's also in love with the girl MC, who for some reason hasn't noticed him even though he was always there. Don't worry, by the end of the book, she'll realize he's The One.

3) The bad boy. This is the one we're all familiar with. He's pure motorcycle on the outside, but deep down, he's just a marshmallow of love for our main character. He doesn't open up to anyone else, but he loves this one girl. He needs her. Yeah, you're all thinking about that series I haven't read, I know it, you know it, we don't need to name it.

4) The nerdy boy. This is (usually, remember usually, we're talking about usually) the only boy you will ever find as a main character. If you find a male POV, it's usually him. He's geeky but never pimply, nerdy but always in a socially-proficient, sarcastic, endearing way. He talks about masturbation because it's funny, not because of something he really likes. He's a bookworm girl's wet dream.

Which leads me to the second thing writers have done:

--We've sanitized boys. What MG books do boys love? Captain Underpants, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, books that appeal to their light side. In our efforts to empower girls (oh, and trust me, there will be much more on this later) we've forgotten that it's irrelevant right now that it's hard to grow up as a girl in today's world full of fashion magazines and celebrity marriages and mirrors in every dressing room; it's hard to grow up a boy in a world where Dad wants you to play baseball and you want to draw pictures or you want to play baseball but your best friend didn't make the team.

I'm simplifying, obviously, and you can flip and flop the sexes here--boys don't always love the mirrors either, and maybe Dad would rather braid your hair then cheer you on in the stands--but we're not arguing about which sex has it harder, we're just acknowledging a fact that YA isn't right now--boys aren't skipping their way through high school, either.

So why do MG books remember this and not YA? Why are MG books looking at showing boys every aspect of themselves, like Greg's issues with his drippy friends and his little brother, and simultaneously giving them an escape with superheros and gross-out humor, when this seems to be something that YA can't grasp?

Well, I'll tell you why.

--We've stripped boys of substance and we did it to empower girls. Somehow, the message "girls can do it too" became "only a girl can do it," and men became the weaker sex in YA.

Where are the epic fantasy trilogies with male main characters? Harry Potter isn't YA, people, stop pretending. When, since Eragon, have boys gotten to save the world? Where is the Melissa Marr for boys? Where is--yeah--Twilight for boys? Where is the science fiction that boys loved in YA, and we just assumed, for some reason, they were fine with losing when they turned 14?

Oh yeah--they're over there in adult fiction, and that's where the teenage boys are going to be, too.

Boys in YA are rubber walls for our 3D female characters to bounce off of. They're props for girls to throw around to show that they're the stronger sex.

And I get that we need to empower girls, people. I get it. But how many books about girls do we need before we can consider that a job well done?

So here's how to fix it. And this is a call to writers, and it's a call to publishers, and it's a call to readers.

--Write, publish, and promote books with real boys. Stop talking and just fucking do it. Read Shaun Hutchinson's The Deathday Letter. Now read it again.

There will be no question in your mind about whether or not Oliver is written as fantasy fodder for a girl. Oliver is not written for a girl. Period. Oliver is written for Oliver, and he is real.

Now realize that he is just one boy, and that you can write any boy you want. Nothing pisses me off like a writer saying that boys have to strong, quiet about how they're feeling, but secretly weak underneath their hardened exterior.

NO! Your boy does not have to be ANYTHING. STOP MAKING BOYS THAT HAVE TO BE SOMETHING. We are no longer allowed to even hint that a girl has to have a specific quality for fear of someone calling sexism, so I am calling sexism on you.

Stop writing this boy you've imagined in your head and write a real boy. Make him gross or sweet or angry or well-adjusted or affectionate or uncomfortable or confused or ambitious or overwhelmed or smitten or anxious or depressed or desperate or happy. Write a boy the same way everyone has been telling everyone, forever, to write a girl; free of gender stereotypes, three-dimensional, and relatable.

Write books that lead logically from middle grade, that don't assume that boys wash their brains out when they hit puberty.

Put covers on books, no matter the gender of the main character, that boys will not be embarrassed to read on the subway. (My vlog tomorrow will have more on this). Teach boys that they don't need a man's name on the cover to know that they will like it.

Agents and publishers, either stop saying you're looking for boy books or start meaning it. Or figure out what a boy book is, because we need someone to explain it to us.

And I'm okay if it means, right now, "books with a male POV." Because I understand that that's a stepping stone boys need right now. I'm not okay with boys indefinitely refusing to read books with a girl's point of view. I'm completely okay with them only reading books that have real male characters in them. Let's make it easy for them to find them, first.

Write and publish fantasy and science fiction (FOR GOD'S SAKE WHERE IS THE SCIENCE FICTION) with strong male main characters. Boys need their blockbusters, too, and it doesn't matter how you feel about YA fantasy--you know just as well as I do what's selling, so let's expand that past the girl's point of view.

Boys. Shut up and read YA. The books are there. There aren't enough, we're absolutely sorry. But they're there. Stop insisting they're not. And I'm trying. And we're trying.

And we can't do this without you.

And the boy reader in your life isn't going to find this post on his own because he doesn't know me because he doesn't read YA, so you know what to do. This post has a link for a reason.

249 comments:

althrasher said...

A. MEN.

Janelle said...

i have one coming up... just for you! ;o) almost done with this wip, and the next one is 1st person POV from a strong, emotionally healthy B-O-Y!!! (YA urban fantasy...)

i hear you and totally agree! thanks for saying it!!

Glen Akin said...

Couldn't have put it any better

Mireyah Wolfe said...

A-freaking-men.

Erica Chapman said...

Wow. Well said!

Dawn Embers said...

You make some interesting points. I never really thought about it before. Before I was in high school (graduated 2003), I mostly read female main characters. I loved Alanna, Katherine, Juniper, Julie, etc. Then, in high school, I mostly read male main characters as I started reading adult fantasy/sci-fi.

It wasn't until recently, in yalitchat, that I'd even heard about the boy book versus girl book discussion. My current YA book (one of few), is about a boy who is dealing with his own identity due to genetic mutations, school problems, family secrets, and the trouble of having friends along with the desire to have friends. But I wrote it because I like the mutant stories I've plotted the past few years, and it just happens to be YA and happens to maybe be a "boy book".

This is a great post about the topic. I may write a post myself some day soon about boy books. *ponders*

Kathy Fenton White said...

Excellent post Hannah!!! Thank you!

amy said...

Interesting post. One thing I'm curious about -- why does it matter if boys read YA? If teen boys are finding books they love, books that have real, vital meaning for them in the adult section, why is that a problem?

not looking for a fight, just honestly curious.

Girlinbetween said...

brilliant.

Shadowdog said...

I turn the big 4-0 next week so it's been a LONG time since I read YA. I cut my teeth on S. E. Hinton (The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and That Was Then, This Is Now were the literary anthem of my teenage years.) but over time I moved on to other genres and never came back. So I haven't read any of your fiction, Hannah.

But I can say this with impunity: DAMN you're a good blogger. You should be getting paid for posts this well written and well thought out. If you've never thought about publishing a book of new essays and old blog posts (sort of like a female and 100 year younger Andy Rooney) then you should seriously consider it. You are a brilliant essayist. People either have "it" when it comes to this sort of thing or they don't. You have "it."

Back to the topic at hand, I find it sad that the publishing world has evolved so little that the same issues that forced Hinton to use initials instead of her first name 43 years ago are still present today. WTF?

Bronwyn Scott-McCharen said...

Interesting post. I've never written anything from a guy's POV (though I have a pretty good idea for a boy centered YA book now), so this post was a much needed kick in the butt for me. Thanks for this :)

Emily White said...

Awesome post! I couldn't agree more. I love writing male MCs in my YA and I always strive to make them real.

I tend to cringe when I come across one of the stereotypical male characters you named. It's so soap opera-ish. Just a bunch of cardboard cutouts who don't exist in the real world but make girls feel really good about themselves. I'm all for girls feeling good about themselves, but they need to know how boys really are.

aspiring_x said...

i wonder... it seems like a bunch of YA writers are female. do you think that could be a reason for the sexism against boys? i know the mc in my wip is female, and it was an unconscious decision.
EXCELLENT post! you've given us loads to think about. (expecially as a mom of three boys)

Julie said...

Hannah,

This was an awesome post! And its something I've thought about for a long time. TEMPEST is a male MC who will eventually save the world and OMG, I would love an opinion on my dude and how he's doing as a dude for other dudes if you ever want to look at a chapter or two!!

Vee said...

Great post. Makes me want to go back to my lovely boy book and revise the heck out of it. I'm actually pretty sure that despite being female I write male POV better (everyone always thinks my girls are boys *cries*).

But. I do worry that there's something up with the industry and not publishing books from a male POV, or wanting books from a male POV to actually be targeted at girls. Posts like this from agents http://kidlit.com/2010/07/16/boy-protagonists-in-ya/, kinda dishearten me, even though I totally get why it is the way it is.

Arlaina said...

I have two (2) sons. I never really liked boys before as characters and etc. With this book here I'm working on, it was really important to me that the boy in it was a real boy. A real person. And that I like him for himself, not for what he represented for the main character... In the end, I doubt anyone (but you!) will play close attention to him. It's her book. But I love him too!

Kristan said...

Great post. Another recommendation for "boy books" in YA: Louis Sachar. I've heard great things about HOLES, and I just started THE CARDTURNER last night and am enjoying it. Contemporary boy YA ftw!

(Even if, as a *writer*, I do tend toward women's/girl's stories...)

Robby said...

The book I'm writing now has a male protagonist. I am a boy. Every other book I have written, and all of the ones that are already pushing their way out of my mind, will have female protagonists. This post is so accurate and well-written.
I think that's what really drew me to you, that you are a girl writing from the point of view of boys. And your boys are so REALISTIC! I hate the stereotypes, but it is also true that I don't know any other boys that read YA. Let's change it. Let's ____ing change it. You're great.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I SO NEEDED THIS! I mean, right today, I needed to hear the message that it was ok to write YA boylit. I came up with an idea for my next book, a boy-centric YA military adventure tale, and all I see around the blogs is "you can't sell boy YA." Huh? I thought everyone was decrying the lack of boylit, but no one will buy it?? I had resolved to start it out as MG and make it a series, just so I can still justify writing it (my MG boys want to read it already, and it's not even started).

So, thank you for this well written, insightful post leading the charge!

Also: Science fiction! Don't even get me started there! Actually, do. I'll be posting about it tomorrow (and linking to this)!:)

cynjay said...

Great post. I posted yesterday about why YA boys are bad for real girls which is another aspect to this issue. (I'm guilty too.) I've been lucky that some boys have read my book and have written to me about it, but yes, there is a girl on the cover, which stops a lot of them from picking it up.

My teen boy will only read autobiographies of classic rock stars. He knows more about Jimmy Page than Harry Potter. He did love The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk and The Deathday Letter is in the TBR pile.

A lot of it for me is chicken and egg. The question is, which one are authors/editors/publishers going to be.

Christina Hollis said...

Brilliant post, Hannah. I don't write YA or MG, but I'm sending this link to my crit. partner, who does.
Thanks!

hannah said...

Thank you, everyone.

Amy--you're right. Boys don't have to read YA. But this is a business, and I would like my genre to appeal to the widest possible audience. And since I write books that, I think, would appeal to boys as well as girls if more of them would pick them up, it's in my best interest if I can tap into the boy market.

But from a less pragmatic standpoint...YA helped me, immensely, through high school, and it helped my (male) best friend as well. Obviously not every boy needs YA or is going to read YA, but I think there are boys out there who do and who should. And I think the option to do so should be more clearly available to them.

But you make a good point. But I guess I hate the idea that YA could become an exclusively female categories, because it has such a wide variety of genres. YA romance can be mostly for girls, sure, the same way adult romance is mostly for girls. But what if men didn't read adult fiction? Everyone would think that was a crisis, even purely from a business standpoint, and every effort would be made to draw them in as an audience. So I don't see why this is any different.

aspiring_x--I absolutely think that has something to do with it.

Veronica Rossi said...

I'm your newest fan. Thank you for this post! I have 2 sons, little guys still. But they should have the reading options that girls do, when they become teens. Great post.

amy said...

haha, fwiw, rumor has it that men *don't* read adult fiction... according to industry "experts", they only read nonfiction, maybe a little sci-fi. And you are right, every couple of months there's a new article on what to do about this "crisis".

hannah said...

Yeah, but every time there's one of those articles, there's a big refute from some guy going, "We do read fiction, damn it!" And even if that's not scientific, it's interesting, I think, that we don't see a lot of argument on the YA front. It just seems we're all sitting around and nodding and going "Yeah, guys don't read it," and that's it.

The problem with adult, also, is that male adults are only reading genre fiction, and everyone thinks that's some huge crisis, but teenage boys, at this point, could only read SF/F in YA and I'd be happy.

HWPetty said...

I think you made some amazing, logical, and impassioned points here. But while I actually agree with most of what you say, the sad truth is that once you leave YA, it all goes the other way.

Generalizing a bit, but for the most part, if you want to read a female POV once you leave YA, you'll be relegated to the GIRL sections of the bookstore or library... Women's Fiction & Romance. That's it. And despite the fact that women consistently buy more books than men year after year, we're supposed to be ashamed to buy books from the only sections of the store that offer our POV.

The generality is that Women's Fiction is only purchased by "bitter" women, and Romance is only purchased by women who are so unhappy with their lives, they have to live a fantasy vicariously through Regency-era rich girls in the arms of an untameable rogue. Whether that's true for some books in those sections or not (mostly not), it helps the industry to belittle the amazing books about women that are out there.

And if we're to believe the award and prize committees, only men are capable of writing worthwhile "literature." The women who are trying to break away from the pink sections of the store are patronized and given a "nice try" when it comes to recognition for their work.

Look, I'm not for sanitized characters of any gender or age or ethnicity or social class. But there's a reason why YA has seen so much crossover in readership, and it's not just for the romantic story arcs.

It's empowerment. Women of all ages need to get their empowerment somewhere, and we aren't getting it in the adult sections of the bookstore. I don't have a problem with a little wish fulfillment in our male characters here and there, and I'd love to see fewer stereotypes in our books across the board. But I will always come down on the side of YA that empowers girls and women. We have to get it from somewhere... the younger the better.

E. M. Kokie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E. M. Kokie said...

I have to say, Hannah, I don't agree with all of the points of your premise...BUT, this is the first discussion of this issue that hasn't made me want to reach through the screen and slap someone. And that says a lot. BECAUSE, I might not agree with you on the roots, but I agree with you on the solution. :)

We need more books with organic male characters, characters that deal with life in organic and realistic ways - and we need to stop judging them or making them into what we think we *want* to teach boys to be. Sometimes the best books show us characters readers don't emulate. And mostly, the best books tell an organic, real story without a heavy message or image to convey.

Like many of the other self-fulfilling prophecies and vicious circles, there are boys who read, and who will read books about all kinds of characters (espcially if we stop telling them they're not supposed to be willing to read such books ;) ), BUT if we had more books with realistic and complicated and organic male characters on the shelves for them to select, and more covers that don't scream romance is all there is, then all of the books on the shelves would hold more appeal to more male readers and they might pick up more of all kinds of books.

(And I agree with you on THE DEATHDAY LETTER - a perfect example of a book that allows its main character to be exactly who he is).

So, even if I don't agree with all of the premise, I agree with the solution. :)

La-La-La-Laurie said...

I love all your posts, but this is one of my favorites. Insightful and really makes you examine characters more thoroughly. There's so many YA books that leave a bad taste in my mouth because I don't believe in the boys/love interests because THEY'RE NOT REAL PEOPLE. I'm not really into girl's fantasies of guys. Boring.

hannah said...

HWPetty--I completely agree with you, and I'm not at all suggesting sacrificing the strong female characters YA has in order to empower the male characters. But isn't the *point* of feminism really equality of the sexes?

So it's in our best interest, as proponents of strong females, to provide examples from a young age that strong females and strong males aren't enemies. That they don't need to put down men to bring themselves up. We should be teaching our strong girls to seek out strong men, not wait for the flimsy boy who only has eyes--and a brain--for her.

We're already ahead of adult fiction in our treatment of female characters and female characters--you're absolutely right. Let's get ahead of them even more by showing the kind of gender equality that adult fiction probably won't even fathom for another 20 years.

Kelly said...

ummm...Scott Westerfeld? Peeps is a male POV and it's more scifi than fantasy.

I know its just ONE BOOK out of the hundreds that are pubbed each year [okay, well, maybe one hundred YA books a year], but it's still there.

Publishers are going to sell to the market. and the market is girls. That's the truth. For every male POV, there's 4 female POVs. Publishing is a BUSINESS. They're not looking to make the readers happy, they just want them to buy books.

I'm not trying to be hateful. I'm just stating the facts I've learned as a publishing intern. in the marketing department

hannah said...

Which means you have a different perspective--probably a more valid perspective, than I do. But I don't see why girls have to be the market. And I do know enough out publishing to know that the people who work in it aren't the soulless, money-hungry machines bitter writers try to make them out to be; they're people who genuinely love books and love readers, even if they do have to consider the bottom line at the end of the day, and who doesn't?

And yes, I'm absolutely aware that there are exceptions. I'd like to believe that my books are exceptions as well. Melvin Burgess's and Kevin Brooks's books are also exceptions. I can list a ton of them. But, just as you do, I know that there are a ton more YA books written about/for girls, so I know just as well as you do that the exceptions are not enough to invalidate the issue.

I guess I just don't understand when the hell we decided that the market was girls when there are boys who desperately want to read about teenagers like them. The reason YA exists in the first place is because teenagers wanted to read about themselves. When did we decide to only reach out to half the market?

sayitwhirly said...

Kelly - Even if the market is girls, that doesn't mean all books have to be girl books. This shouldn't be GIRLS reading GIRL BOOKS and BOYS reading BOY BOOKS like reading is some kind of dichotomous binary. Girls don't just want to read about girls (see: hannah moskowitz). Boys don't just want to read about boys (boys read Twilight). People don't only read about people like them.

Personally, I feel that marketing departments might want to adopt that mantra. Maybe then we'd have a more varied collection of YA protagonists and a lessening number of instances of "white-washing" on book covers.

- sophie

HWPetty said...

I will say that I think we don't do enough to encourage boys to see past the roles that have been assigned to them and to read what they enjoy despite the gender assignment of the publisher/society. And my two favorite quotes on this issue come from...

Shannon Hale: "My call to arms. Mothers dear, don't let's do this. Don't let's raise our boys to only watch "boy" movies or only read "boy" books. They, just as much as our girls, need to accept and cheer girl heroes, need to believe girls to be interesting and worthwhile."

And from Lauren McLaughlin in a #genderinya Twitter discussion: "Girls benefit from being forced to read boy protagonist books in school. It broadens our perspective. We ask too little of boys."

I understand the role of writers in avoiding stereotypes and sanitizing... but women have been stereotyped and sanitized for years. And in school, we were taught to study those books for what it said about men and society and that image of us in the public consciousness.

I think it does a disservice to boys/men to cater to them in such a way that expects they aren't capable of the same critical reading and deep thinking that girls/women have been doing for decades.

hannah said...

Exactly, Sophie. Having a boy on your cover is as much, if not, as taboo right now as having a person of color on your cover (which is obviously a completely important issue, but not what we're talking about here).

hannah said...

HWPetty--I was in high school a year and a half ago, and we read TONS of books with female protagonists. As far as I can remember, the books we read in AP Lit were:

Pride and Prejudice
Grendel
Jane Eyre
Beowulf
A Farewell To Arms
Their Eyes Were Watching God

so...a lot of girl protagonists in there that the boys had to read too. And this is adult books, not YA.

I *don't* disagree with you. I really don't. I just don't believe that our points of view aren't harmonious. Boys need to read female protagonists, absolutely. But we need to get them there. And Sophie was right about the dichotomy--they have a right to want to read strong boys as much as we have a right to read strong boys, and *I* have a right to read strong boys as a female. I have a right to be sick of reading books with girls on the cover. Girls have a right to keep reading them. Boys have a right to pick them up. Boys have a right to have other options.

I know that in mainstream (adult) fiction, under-representation of girls is a huge problem. But I don't write mainstream fiction and I don't know much about it. I know YA, so that's the area where I notice and worry about the problems. Mainstream adult is, to be honest, someone else's battle for the time being.

aspiring_x said...

ooh! i did want to say real quick (i know it's not the focus of this post so much) but you mentioned covers that boys are embarassed to be seen with! what's with that?!?! there are SO MANY covers of great YA boys would enjoy that even I (as a woman!) am too embarassed to carry out in public, because they are so stinking girl-ish! can't they make more neutral covers for those wonderful stories! covers that boys would pick off the shelf, without looking over their shoulders to make sure no one's watching!?!?

hannah said...

aspiring_x--Watch my vlog tomorrow.

aspiring_x said...

already planning on it. :)

hannah said...

Cool. Hopefully I'll figure out what the hell I'm going to say before then ;)

Icy Roses said...

Wow, this is fantastic, and I've honestly never given real thought to it before. And this is the first time I've dropped by, but I joined your school of magic gay fish, so yeah, you can count on me dropping by more often in the future. Can't wait for the vlog!

hannah said...

Thanks! Swim, magic gay fish, swim!

Lea (YA Book Queen) said...

Very well said...I can't even deny that those four stereotypes are everywhere in YA. In all the books I've read this past month, I've seen all four repeatedly. It gets a bit annoying after some time, so hopefully more realistic males will start popping up (and more male POV's, because they are definitely in the minority of YA). Can't wait to see your vlog tomorrow about covers!

*grabs keys and prepares to head off to library in search of The Deathday Letter*

Melina said...

Boys! I just tweeted a link to this post. You really put a lot of thought into what you had to say.

Lydia Sharp said...

Oh, my dear Hannah, where have you been all my life?

I have to refrain from naming names here but I'd like to relay an experience that a male YA author friend of mine recently had:

He wrote a YA novel in first person. The MC is a regular teenage guy... except he turns into a zombie later.

It's brilliant.

Let me say that again.

It's brilliant.

Not only is it written from the male POV, and done so realistically, but DUDE TURNS INTO A ZOMBIE. Hello? How can you not love it already?

I beta read for him, and let me repeat:

It's brilliant.

Here's where the trouble comes in, though. His agent (who also thought the novel was brilliant) was getting rejects left and right from editors at the major houses. Why?

Your book is brilliant, they said, but you need to make the MC a girl. Now. Do it now. And then we'll reconsider.

Why? he and his agent ask.

Because YA sells in the female POV, not the male. Just do it. Stop asking questions.

So my dear author friend with this brilliant YA novel then had to spend the next six months doing a COMPLETE REWRITE on his novel (did I mention that it was already brilliant?).

I beta read for him again, and having read both versions, I told him honestly:

Not that this isn't also a good piece of writing, but I liked the first one better. This bitch is whiny and spoiled and I hope all the zombies eat her. The end.

He agreed. But he had to send it along anyway because the publishers make the rules.

So sad. So very very sad.

I think that book would have had an even larger audience than your typical female-ish YA novel. As an adult woman, I loved it. I could also see teenage guys *and* girls loving it. Add to that, I bet adult men would have enjoyed it, too. Just think of all the lost sales... *cries*

hannah said...

Ugh, God, that breaks my heart.

I had a ms (that didn't sell, whatever) that was loosely a contemporary immaculate conception, told from the point of view of the Joseph character. An agent I queried with it told me that she liked it, but I should make my main character a girl.

Um...that kind of fucks with my allegory.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Lydia and Hannah This is making me cry too. And seriously? Doesn't this make the case for self-publishing?

girl jordyn said...

Just popping in to say that even amongst well-written, realistic males in YA they usually fall within one of those four categories.

hannah said...

Susan...that's a whole different issue, but from my POV, there are very, very few good cases for self-publishing, and this ain't one of them.

girl jordyn--and I think that's a damn shame, because a shitload of real boys...don't.

Tere Kirkland said...

Wow, Lydia, did your friend's publishing house never read Beautiful Creatures, or The Demon's Lexicon, or the Maze Runner, all YA books with male povs? Rhetorical question. ;)

Hannah, came over here from Icy Roses' blog and I wanted to say your post is spot on. Yes, female writers took YA and pwned it, and female readers are keeping it that way, but that doesn't mean that a book with a perfectly good male protagonist should be changed into a female for marketing reasons.

Anything else I type on this subject will just devolve into self-righteous drivel, so I'll leave with a quick THANKS!

Michelle said...

Hannah, I want to digress into what the boy love interests in YA are doing to teen girls (at least in my house) but I won't.

I've written a couple of MG boy MC books (on sub to agents) and last night as I was re-reading one of them I thought, "this kid is so real--how will it ever sell? He's not stereotypical anything." So thanks. Of course I hope to see the books published, but I have to tell these kids' stories honestly.

When my 12yo son goes from the library he brings home books from the adult section, because the YA section he thinks is just "for girls." When I asked him what kind of book he'd like to read about, he said, "I'd like to read something set in an orchestra." He loves classical music. And skateboarding. And video games. And inventing. He's not stereotypical. He's a renaissance boy, if you know what I mean.

Great, great post.

Larissa said...

OMG. I love you, Hannah Moskowitz.

That is all.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

OMG, such a great post. AND TRUE. :)

Erika Lynn said...

This is really a great post, there have been so few male protagonists and you are right they are really stereotyped. Thanks for posting about it.

hannah said...

Michelle--boy characters have an easier time in MG, because the male audience is still holding strong. When I went out on submission with Zombie Tag, I feel like every single editor mentioned how excited they were to see an MG with a male main character. So there's a real desire for them there.

Becca C. said...

My next WIP is going to be first-person from the POV of a totally normal small-town boy, the kind I was friends with in high school. Heck, the kind I'm still friends with. I'm really excited about starting it, too.

Suzanne Young said...

Check out the big brain on Hannah!!!!! Nice post. Although I will keep writing hot guys. With motorcycles. For myself. :-)

? said...

I absolutely love this post.

As a man, I have no problem reading a book with a female main character. I enjoy them

But I completely agree with everything you said.

I finished a novel last year with a male main character and my current WIP has a male main character. So I'm on top of this.

Amanda J. said...

Hell. Yes. :)

Eric said...

First off, I got here thanks to Shaun a.k.a. The Deathday Letter author. He's awesome, and I'm so glad he sent me here. Secondly, this is a very well thought out argument and I completely agree with you. Thank you for taking the podium and saying what needed to be said.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I began writing my YA urban fantasy, involving a street-wise abandoned boy during Katrina, when I got tired of walking down the aisle of the YA section seeing titles like WHY IS MY VAMPIRE BOYFRIEND PRETTIER THAN I AM?

You're right I believe. Boys will read if you give them what they want to read about, an adventure that they can identify with, that seems "real" in that the characters, no matter the outlandish circumstances, are authentic.

You have a thought-provoking blog, Roland

Kristin Briana Otts said...

I freaking love this post, Hannah, and I totally agree. Sure, I'm a bit of a feminist, but I think that with the recent rise of feminism - especially in YA - the boys have gotten lost. Boys need to be told they can be strong too. They need to save the world, get the girl, and be the knight in shining armor. Boys need empowerment just as much as girls do, but I think we've forgotten that recently because, for so long, men DID have the power. It's only recently that literature has started really rooting for the underdog (women), but we forget that teenage boys are usually underdogs too. This isn't about gender wars; this is about the fact that EVERY SINGLE TEENAGER, boy or girl, needs to be told that they're worth something.

Ahem. Sorry. I just got on my soap box in the middle of your blog comments. Carry on. :P

hannah said...

K.B--so incredibly well said.

Remilda Graystone said...

Hannah, I love you. You're awesome, and where the hell did this post come from? It's just so super-frakkin-fantastic! I can't put it into words.

Oh my gosh. I'm about to implode from the truth you've written here.

Whoa.

Remilda Graystone said...

Okay, now that I've calmed down and my love for you has stopped making me speechless, I'm going to actually comment further on this post.

Here goes.

One of my biggest problems with today's world is exactly what you said: That by empowering girls we've weakened boys. We've forgotten them. We've thrown them to the side and left them there.

It's totally true, and this is one of the biggest problems I have with--I don't want to say feminism, but I will anyway--feminism. When can we stop and say, "all right, we've done a great job. now let's start focusing on both sexes EQUALLY"?

How about now? Even I want to read more books that are geared towards guys. Those were the books I read when I was younger, and dammit, they were great books! I want to see that in YA too. I want books my brother can read when he gets into his teen years where the guys are REALISTIC not STEREOTYPED and ohmygosh STEREOTYPED and ohmygosh TYPECASTED!! I'M annoyed with books like that; I can only imagine how annoyed he'll be with books where boys are portrayed in an unrealistic and unrelatable manner.

So, from now on, I'm going to be on the lookout for boy books and I'm going to help promote them and write them, so that YA can be equal. And guys can have their fun too.

Yeah...I can't believe I was going to miss this post, so I'm going to follow you. Why I wasn't before, I'm not sure.

Thanks for the awesome post!

Caitlin said...

I typed a long comment and then lost it so now you get the (probably better) short version.

1. I don't totally agree with your empowerment theory but that's neither here nor there because
2. I agree that YA boys are (in general) unrealistically written and this is a detriment to YA because
3. Good books are good books regardless of their assigned category and marketing scheme (coming from the 21 year old who reads almost everything) so alienating people from one market hurts everyone.
4. Also as a side note, IMHO most "girl" YA humor sucks in that it's only funny if I'm in the absolute right mood which almost never happens. MG and "boy" YA seems to have a more universally humorous appeal.

Books I originally mentioned included Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian (a good example of how English profs can be your best friends in recommending books to kids) and American Born Chinese (Graphic Novels like this are another place guys are turning).

This might actually be longer than the original version... sorry?

Lynda Young said...

I love your list of sterotypes. Amusing, but true. This is not a topic I've thought about. When I was reading YA (back in the dark ages) all the main characters were male. It's interesting to see the change.

hannah said...

Caitlin--great points, especially about graphic novels.

Valerie said...

Awesome, awesome post. I am a huge fan of male POVs and have been pushing aside my story ideas featuring them because I fell into that trap you talked about and believed boys wouldn't read them and they're not really "boy books" for girls but you've inspired me to jump in and write those books anyway!

Ted Cross said...

It's hard to say, but you may be right. My two boys seem to have skipped YA. To me whenever I look at a YA book they have a feel of being aimed at girls. Perhaps it's just the ones I looked at. Personally, I am growing weary of the huge YA bandwagon, so I am perhaps steering my boys unconsciously toward adult books.

Patty Blount said...

I am standing up in my cubicle with my fist in the air. (Or... I was.)

This is incredible insight! Thank you! I'm writing an 18-YO guy as a MC right now and struggling. You've helped me realize why.

Anonymous said...

This makes me feel better about finishing my YA sci-fi book. But it's not in 1st, and I'm worried about it. Why is everything in 1st these days? Does something written from two POVs (one boy, one girl) and in 3rd even stand a chance?

Kendra said...

Amen. I wrote a YA last year with a male MC. Why? Because my 10 year old son is an avid reader, and I don't want him to skip YA because there's "nothing to read." We need more books like "Twisted" by LH Anderson. Both male and female readers get a lot out of Tyler's story.

Jess said...

This is the most brilliant post I have read in a long time. I nodded my head through most of it, felt guilty through some of it, and changed my mind about the direction my current WIP is going. It already has a strong male character, and now, thanks to you, I have some excellent ideas on how to make him better.

I WILL share this. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

ted said...

When I was a boy (long ago), I read MG. In my mid-teens, I started reading Vonnegut, Pynchon, Castaneda, Hesse and others of that era. It wasn't because these were male POV books, it was because they posed challenging ideas and created interesting, escapist worlds. That was the appeal.

I didn't want to read about teenagers, high-school settings, boy-girl relationships, or anything else grounded in the world I inhabited. To the extent that describes YA fiction (I'm not sure the term existed at the time), I wouldn't have been interested. And today's teenage boys may have similar motivations.

swifttuttle said...

Brava! Fantastic post, and thanks for the recommendation of Shaun's book, I've just downloaded it to my Kindle. Looking forward to reading this.
- A boy

Fawn Neun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fawn Neun said...

As a mom of two sons who watched them go from Captain Underpants, grow right out of Harry Potter before it was finished, straight into Stephen King and David Eddings - BRAVA! And it's about damn time, too.

My oldest went directly from Eragon into The Belgariod, which although classified as adult, is exactly what a boy's YA book should be.

I'm okay with them reading adult books, because I know it's better than the alternative. Which is not much of anything they can relate to.

Oh - and I sort of have to agree with Ted above as well. I went from MG books to adults books myself as a girl, because I didn't want to read 'girly' stuff.

I tend to think that YA tends to dumb things down so the tweens will read it. Kind of a shame, older teens (16-19) deserve intelligent fiction that fits along with their rapidly expanding cognitive skills and changing perspectives. The last couple YA's I've read seemed to be written for 13 year olds, which isn't 'young adult' in my book.

Maybe we ought to just start calling it what it is - 'teen fiction' and save 'young adult' for when we mean it.

Mari Miniatt said...

My boys solved this problem by reading pokemon, then on to Stephan King. Except for Holes, Harry Potter, and Hatchet (all start with H - hmmm) they did not find any YA books that made them interested.

I agree we need more sci=fi that is not based on a series or movie. I like them, but we need more Bradbury's out there.

But the saddest reason they don't read YA. "It's like shopping in the Barbie aisle now," my eldest.

Joseph L. Selby said...

This is a great post, Hannah. There was one bullet point missing that I thought I would address, having been a boy myself once.

Sex.

Come the age of 12, a boy's hormones start to kick in. By 14 they're raging like a hurricane. This isn't something that can be accommodated openly, even if a 14-year-old had the presence of mind to know what to do (the internet certainly helps, nowadays).

It's not just sex. It's adult themes in general (but sex has a lot to do with it). MG fantasy is the lure, the worm wiggling in the water. A female companion with breasts that falls in love with the hero is the hook that pulls the boy to adult fiction.

YA is for the most part just as sanitized as MG. Romance and love and blah blah blah. The boys want breasts and sex and swords and kicking ass.

Lila Swann said...

I agree with most everything that you've said. One note - I'm assuming you're referring to Edward Cullen as the "bad boy." I know that you're trying to provide an example of your stereotype but the honest truth is that, well...Edward Cullen isn't a teen boy at all. Just sort of nitpicky - everyone always gets on their soapbox about how unrealistic EC is. He is - he's not 17, he's 100-and-something and those years of living make him different. He shouldn't be compared here because he's most certainly not a teenage boy. Of course, my perspective on this goes both ways - the teen girls who complain that their male peers aren't like EC need to be slapped. Of course they're not - they're ACTUAL teens!

Besides that, I totally agree with everything else you said. I feel guilty that my almost-finished MS has a female MC. When I first started writing it 5 years ago, I actually felt really guilty writing about a female MC because at the time, Potter ruled supreme and I felt like boys would be alienated from reading my female POV. From a publishing/marketing perspective, it sounds like I picked the right choice. But like I said earlier, you made me feel guilty! I think I wrote female because I'm a 17-year-old girl. While all of my best friends are guys (and I write guys realistically in terms of dialogue), I would be terrified to write from their POV. I just KNOW I'd get it wrong, and I would hate for it to come across fake.

Marie said...

Wow, you are a very angry person.... :)

hannah said...

I'm not angry! Just passionate. I'm an Aries. Rawr.

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I totally agree that books with male MCs are great even if it takes boys a while to find them, since there are tons of girls (like me) who devour them. And the same way people of all races need books that show characters of different races than their own, girls need boy characters and boys need girl characters; sometimes it just takes until they're reading adult books to realize that. Which is a damn shame.

Marie said...

Haha, naw--I'm just kidding. I think I was just blown off the roof by the power of your post. :) But I totally understand what you mean. It's really hard finding a good, solid, 3-dimensional male protagonist in YA literature, and I have equally strong feelings toward the "bad boy" just as you mentioned in your post. I also love reading YA and am always on an endless hunt for good YA that is not "high school Romeo & Juliet". I've seen your book every time I go to the store, so I think I'll have to get it next time I'm there! (Some YA novels I've come across that have decent male characters: UNWIND and THE MAZE RUNNER. But they are truly few and far between.)

Ryan Sullivan said...

Very interesting. I think that boys do read, and do buy books--but they're less likely to be the ones who go out and tell people about it. Reading is something that can be self-conscious to high school boys--heck, I love Maureen Johnson but I'd never read her books in public in high school, they're pink with faceless girls on the covers.

AJ said...

I'm a teen boy and I don't read YA. I mostly read adult fiction and MG here and there. Why? Personally because most YA seems to be catered to dramatic/emotional girls. Look at Twilight.

YA seems dumb to me personally. I'd rather not waste my time. So I read adult fiction. Or MG where the stories are good. Which reminds me, I also don't read YA because I don't like how they make teenagers look.

True, teenagers are pretty slothful and don't take much responsibility, but that doesn't mean it's right.

I'd rather not read something that puts my age group down (whether openly or tacitly declared).

hannah said...

AJ--please believe me that all YA isn't like that. It's evolved amazingly in the past 20 years, and it's a beautifully diverse genre now.

Trust me. I know this point has been wrung to death, but I wrote BREAK when I was sixteen. There's no fucking way I wrote it to put down teenagers.

And it's not a romance. At all.

Sage, who doesn't read paranormal romance or slothful MCs said...

"Personally because most YA seems to be catered to dramatic/emotional girls. Look at Twilight."

Twilight is not the only YA book on the shelves. Not even close. I know there are big displays for the books and I'm sure the displays can be distracting *nods seriously*, but I'm also sure you're smart enough to find the other YA books.

"True, teenagers are pretty slothful and don't take much responsibility, but that doesn't mean it's right.I'd rather not read something that puts my age group down (whether openly or tacitly declared)."

What YA books are putting teens down or making them out to be slothful? I don't want to read a slothful protagonist either. Good thing most YA books have their characters working towards a goal. And when there are irresponsible MCs (which occur in adult and MG too), they often find responsibility during the course of the book. I'm sure there are exceptions, and if you find YA dumb, you find it dumb, but I don't see where teens--the heroes of the books--are being put down on a grand scale in YA.

JaxPop said...

Excellent post & plenty of great comments. I hit the follow button so maybe I'll add my 2 cents in the future - I also write for boys.

Jane said...

Great post! I can't believe I've never read your blog before.

Lila Swann said...

Just another comment - my boyfriend and I went to check out Barnes & Noble today after discussing this post at dinner. He gravitated to the face-out section (the New Releases, I guess) and could only find one book that he would even want to pick up. As he looked, I was suddenly very hyper-aware of how non-boy-friendly most YA is. Most of the covers were either pink, had a girl on the cover, or showed some sort of sexy dude (usually without a shirt). If a book didn't fall into those categories, it usually had some sort of abstract picture (perhaps of a flower, or of a tree) but my poor boyfriend still found that too feminine to be interesting. In the end, he only picked up one book...and quickly put it down once he realized it had romance in it.

K. Cruz said...

I believe this is your best post yet.

I would also like to point out that boys got extremely turned off by the first few batches of YA. A case of a bad first impression the led to long, damaging effects on the market. I keep wondering what would have happened if more "boy books" got published before the glut of YA chicklit.

My brother told me that if I was going to write a YA novel, he'll read it but I shouldn't expect him to tell his friends. Hearing it hurt like hell because 1.) I knew he was telling the truth, and 2.) I never even got to the part where I would tell him that it was YA Science Fiction.

I just hope that publishers and bookstores take more chances with boy lit. Sometimes it only takes one person to make things viral.

Deniz Bevan said...

Great post Hannah! The novel I'm querying for at the moment, The Face of A Lion might be more MG than YA; main character Austin is 12 going on 13, but he's neither nerd nor wimp nor gay foil! He runs the show and the two females both turn out to be villains. May I should age him by a year or so and start marketing it as "a new non wimpy YA for boys"!

hannah said...

Thanks again, everyone!

Deniz--12/13 is probably MG, and there's a wider variety of boys in MG than YA still...and I said somewhere in these comments (which I don't blame you for not reading through) that publishers seem a lot more willing to pick up MG for boys than YA for boys.

I should also mention at some point how many GBTQ boys I've talked to who absolutely love YA, and I think we're sloooowly getting the point where we're having some great gay male role models in YA, and hopefully straight males characters will follow that lead.

C.L. Moyer said...

I am SO excited to have found your blog! NICE!
The YA urban fantasy I'm writing stars Denim River as the main character. I love him already.
I hope others will, too. He's 15 and coming into his own powers within his magical family. The book is set in contemporary Seattle, and has good guys, a bad guy, running, searching, flooding, magical creatures, and lots and lots of emeralds. :-)

I have excerpts from the first draft (please remember... FIRST DRAFT)on my blog.
Thanks again... I'm passing this post on.
Cynthia
www.clmoyer.com

Dan Krokos said...

I skipped to adult books because they have more blood/sex/action/swearing than YA books. Even when they don't, they do. There is nothing more heinous than the mind of a teenage boy. We want filth.

M.J. Horton said...

I love this post. This needed to be said and I'm glad you were the one to say it. You don't hold back and this is a topic where enough has been held back already.

<3

j3black said...

Yay, you! Your comments on YA are true in other aspects of our culture. We assume empowering the disempowered requires a plot reversal. As a YA reader (25+ years ago), I didn't care about "boy" stuff or "girl" stuff. I wanted what I want now: interesting characters in interesting stories. A Wrinkle in Time. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The Little House series. Good stuff.

Julie Hedlund said...

OUTSTANDING post! This is the first time I've read your blog, but I'll be back. I don't even write YA, but I couldn't stop reading once I started. My son is only 4 right now, but I hope by the time he's a teenager, writers like you will have filled the shelves with books with REAL boy MCs that he can relate to.

P.S. Your "...that kind of fucks with my allegory" comment caused me to spit my tea out laughing. Thanks for making my day.

hannah said...

Thanks, everyone! Especially everyone who says they'll be back--yaaaay. Now you'll have to read all my shitty posts too. My evil plan is working.

Really I'm just posting because I want comment 100.

Also to tell Dan to go to hell. (Don't worry, guys. He likes it.)

layinda said...

I also write for boys (younger YA), with boy protagonists who are realistic rather than stereotypes. I wrote a blog post in a similar vein a few weeks ago, in response to ANOTHER blog post about the topic:
http://layinda.wordpress.com/2010/06/28/where-the-boys-are/
(If you are interested.) It dovetails with what you're saying here.

Anonymous said...

Okay, Hannah, here's your 100. (Or, 101? I write, I can't count.)

My first novel will be published in Feb 2011 & has a 15 yo boy protagonist / narrator. So, I was immediately intrigued by what you wrote about boys, esp. teen boys, avoiding YA &/or books.

I want to add my 3 cents (or, whatever's the going rate for comments) but this topic is so complex it's difficult to know where to start. The one point I would disagree with is the gay boy as sidekick / story adjunct. There are gay boy protagonists who are vibrant and central to the narrative.

What bothered me - not so much about that exclusion (and I guessed that you were describing the categories in the broadest way possible?) - about the list was that gay boys wouldn't have reason to be troubled. Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but the world is still mostly straight, geared towards heterosexuals. Gay kids have do deal with puberty, but in the context of sort out their same-sex feelings in a world that is still NOT set-up to nurture them. IMO

Adolescent gay kids are still at risk (assaulted, killed), ironically even more so because of visibility b.c. of tv, the net, social media. (Alternatively, maybe gay is morphing into becoming a new category of general harassment that all but the most socially blessed are able to dodge during adolescence?)

To characterize gays as being more likely to drug use is wrong: people get high for a whole bunch of reasons, and gays boys are no more / less likely than their pill popping female (or, 40 & a blunt slamming bro's) peers.

What publishers of YA without boys lose out on is, ironically, a female audience. Girls, straight girls at least, study boys for clues, nuances, etc. Without protagonist boy characters in YA, (straight) girls lose an opportunity to learn about boys in a private sphere.

SWK said...

Great post and I think you bring up some real truths and concerns. I'm a writer (first novel comes out next year) and mom of four boys (2 teenagers) and I'm constantly looking for good reads for them. My teens read a mixture of YA, adult, sci-fi and classics. Gordon Korman, Nick Hornby, Orson Scott Card, Lois McMaster Bujold. One loves football, lacrosse, indie rock, AND Glee. One prefers skiing, kayak racing, Dr. Who, and good jazz. One is a hopeless flirt. One is a total wallflower. Both have big, crazy (but very different) dreams. They are multi-faceted, unpredictable, fun, and my best lessons in trying to write YA guys who are real. Honestly, I am ex-dancer and tend to write girl protagonists but my sons, and posts like yours, help me stay honest about the guys that surround my chicks.

hannah said...

Anon--ABSOLUTELY there are books with strong gay characters. I said somewhere in the list of comments (not too far up...maybe in the 80s or 90s or so?) that in a lot of ways YA is doing a much better job with gay boys than it is with straight boys. Male gay MAIN characters in YA are often brilliant. It's the sidekicks that don't tend to be as strong and often fall into stereotypes.

Of course being gay is hard. But it isn't always hard in the way that YA books make it out to be. Not every gay boy is attacked and ridiculed. Some are, and there are a LOT of examples of that already present. But, at least where I live, the struggles of gay teens are becoming more and more parallel to the struggles of straight teens--finding someone to be with (and admittedly there's a smaller pool of applicants for most gay teens) who makes you happy and doesn't horrify your parents ;)

I have a lot of thoughts on gay characters in YA--enough to merit another post, definitely--but my views are obviously colored by my background and where I live. From where I see it, it seems like a lot of gay characters in YA are still stuck in the past, facing the same issues with self-hatred and coming out, which, YES, are still relevant to many teens figuring out their sexuality, but are not as universal as YA seems to still think.

I don't like that YA is still viewing homosexuality as an "issue" for a problem novel. Homosexuality isn't cutting. It isn't an abusive parent. It isn't a drinking problem. It's just a thing that some teenagers are, and while there are absolutely books that treat it as just a facet of a teen's personality, I'm still waiting for more.

David Levithan does absolutely beautiful gay characters. I'm hoping hoping hoping that when THE ANIMALS WERE GONE comes out, people will say the same about me.

Blueicegal ♥ said...

oh freaking wow! may i add that you rock !!!i am linking this awesomeness everywhere thank you for being honest and so insightful!!!!!

Dan Krokos said...

Hey I still like YA Hannah. I wrote one. They just need more tits. (IS)

hannah said...

IS HAS SO MUCH TITS

and you better enjoy them, because The Animals Were Gone has zero tits. Zero.

Dan Krokos said...

That's okay. You have sated my tit quota.

Scott Tracey said...

I just want to point out that LGBT teens actually ARE considered more likely to abuse drugs than heterosexual teenagers. On one hand you can say it's an environmental factor due to dealing with pressures of living in a "straight world" and then there's also the prevelant gay club scene - kids gravitate towards people like them, and there are sometimes drugs in those places. There's been several studies, such as the one cited here: http://www.teen-drug-abuse.org/gayteens_alcoholdrugs.php

The overwhelming 'gay' story in YA is the "coming to grips with coming out/sexuality/etc." Until being gay has no factor on the rest of the story - i.e. we see fiction where characters just happen to be gay (instead of their sexuality being a major facet of their character) - we're still just treading water.

NoGuessing said...

A-Fucking-Men

I think Artemis Fowl and Alex Rider are great examples of boy books. Artemis Fowl is my favourite YA series after Potter. What a brilliant character. When I picked up the series I was the same age as he was, and I wished I was him.

I'm a male teeanage YA writer. I have three WIPs in the works:

One is a high fantasy, where the male MC is very similar to this comment:

"Nothing pisses me off like a writer saying that boys have to strong, quiet about how they're feeling, but secretly weak underneath their hardened exterior."

But there is a tiwst. I'm breaking him down and then he'll find he's strong. He believes he should be your typical "real man", and I'm going to tear it down. Think Rand al'Thor and his belief he needs to be hard.

I agree that adult fic deals with young guys better than YA does at the moment. Whatever your opinion of Wheel of Time, the last chapter of The Gathering Storm is a powerful life lesson to young men, especially when Rand has been getting worse and worse for so long.

I'm tentatively dreaming up a third WIP, based on the experiences of myself and a few boys I know. It's going to deal with boys riding horses and the prejudice against them. Will probably end up a girl book, but for the guys who get bullied for riding, I hope it will help them. We've actually had suicides because of it.

But anyway, I will stop babbling about me and start linking to this post. Immediately.

Babbling Brooke said...

This is an awesome blog post. It has given me several ideas for my story.

It would be very nice if the writers could get guys to read more YA. If it's written in a male POV, though, it needs to be a convincing one. My dad read Beautiful Creatures and kept going on and on about how un-boy-like the MC was acting.

Keren David said...

I've written a YA book with a male narrator - it's called When I Was Joe and it was published in the UK and Australia earlier this year, coming out in the US in September. I've had a really good response from male and female readers. It's a thriller about a boy going into witness protection. I worked hard to make the boy feel real - not a female idealised bit of love interest - but a real flawed boy.
I didn't find the male narrator thing a problem with publishers, but I did find some of them a bit confused because it's not the stereotypical emotional-lite male action thriller model, but more character driven.
In the UK we don't have the split between MG and YA that there is in the US, maybe that makes a difference. But I can think of a lot of boy-friendly teen writers: Patrick Ness, Melvin Burgess, Kevin Brooks, Anthony Horowitz, Robert Muchamore.

Sibylle said...

'Write, publish, and promote books with real boys.'

FOR FUCK'S SAKE. Because to be a real boy you have to love 'epic fantasy trilogy and science fiction'? Hello essentialism.

I strongly disagree with you.

Redikolous said...

I have a problem with this post.

I'm a girl, very recently a teenager. I read. A lot. The Harry Potter craze? Yeah, that was me. The Twilight craze? Well...that wasn't me, but it was my friends. We all however, were avid purchasers of books and manga, which you don't really mention in your post. I'll get to this later.

You mention you don't read Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Well, there's a thing.

Most of my guy friends read Sci-Fi and Fantasy. The vast majority of it was not patterned after movies and television shows. It's not second rate. It was not because they felt "relegated." They had had a genuine interest for years. What they didn't read in books they made for in manga, which probably has similar gender division issues, if not more, but...different. I'm not going to go into vast detail, because I'm sure there's someone who's already written about it and they know a lot more about manga than I do. But I can say that boys got rather nice protagonists in their manga, that are all the stuff you want boys to be literature. Multidimensional, etc.

One thing I would like to mention, is that a lot of the books in the high school library outside of series are meant to be marketed towards both. As I recall, Nancy Werlin was a big one. A lot of what we read we pick up at the library first, which has a variety of books through all the trends. Most of the "illustrious" "classics" we read where featured male protagonists, and this trend got worse in high school, because most of the books we read in class were either written by male authors or featured an adult protagonist. I like how someone points out what books they read in high school and how there were women in those too so that's not cool mhmm. But most literature is the opposite.

I'm just not seeing the reason to make girls the other in one of the few genres they can write about anything in. Most women who publish either publish in romance, which has strict rules for content and format, chick lit, which is basically YA without the young, and is stigmatized heavily (and is expected to have romance as well), or YA. Where boys and men have the majority of the market catering to them. Most "manly men" authors aren't stigmatized nearly as much and are household names. Compare Steven King, Tom Clancy, Dean Koontz to Nora Roberts, Danielle Steele.

I'm not attacking you, but I just do not see the point of this when there is a huge market in graphic novels and comic books, sci-fi and fantasy and adult novels. The experiences of teenage boys are not left out in mainstream fiction, including films and television. I'd be more focused on writing for minority teens. I know that growing up, the books that we read featuring black teens was street lit, which wasn't approved of by any adults.

Redikolous said...

Also, I forget. I agree with the fact that boys can read stuff with female protagonists too, and not all YA lit has flat caricatures of boys.

Ky said...

That was amazing. Hands down. I couldn't agree more! I get so tired of one dimensional male love interests where the author tries and fails to humanize them by giving them one fault. And I love reading YA books with male MC's. I find them refreshing and free from girl drama. I'm on an ARC tour for the Deathday Letter so now I'm even more excited to be able to read it! ^.^ Great points and I totally agree! Funny how I'm guilty of skipping to adult novels to get some good male protagonists. XD

hannah said...

Sibylle--Could you point out where I said that? I said that we need epic fantasy with male protagonists. I stand by that. I don't think I said ANYWHERE that it's the only thing I expect boys to read--and I certainly would never say what someone *should* be reading. I think it's a major part of what's missing from YA. But I'm a writer of contemporary YA and I am always more in tune and more concerned with what happens in contemporary. The book I named in that post as a fantastic example is not science fiction or fantasy...so I don't really know where you got this idea.

Redikulous--You're right that I didn't mention manga; I don't know much about it or its market. Thank you for the insight there. It's certainly something to think about.

Like I told HWPetty earlier up in the comments, I'm not in in any way suggesting that we cut down on the number of strong female protagonists in YA. I absolutely expect and hope that people will keep writing them. I just don't agree that the treatment of boys in YA needs to stay at is in order to empower women. Isn't it a stronger girl who can fight alongside, banter with, and fall in love with a three-dimensional guy instead of a two-dimensional foil? I'm not suggesting that we all run out and write books where the men save the day again.

I'm suggesting that we need more books from the male POV--and I fully intend that these books will have strong female characters in them as well--and more books from female POVs that flesh out the male characters to the extent that we flesh out the females.

And I just don't agree that young adult should be a section of the bookstore that is solely for girls. I learned a ton in YA, and my male friends who read it did as well. And so much of YA is about exploring people different from yourself. And as a girl, I want to get into the mind of a teenage boy sometimes. Women who want that read Nick Hornby, or any number of adult books written from strong points of view. I want more books where I can read from a boy's point of view.

Having books with strong males is something that will benefit both boys and girls.

hannah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Redikolous said...

Are you talking about epic fantasy? Really? Because there is a ton of epic fantasy featuring boys. It's one of the signatures of the genre. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Eragon, Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson. I don't even read fantasy, and I can tell you that. It's a total sausagefest. And because of the marketing in most of YA, yes, those books go over to the rest of the black/blue/jade covered books. And Harry Potter is very much YA. Name a fantasy book written for girls before Twilight.

I think you're conflating the fact that in female centric books where boys take a second role, that must mean that in all or most YA books boys are one-dimensional, but this isn't the case. Books tend to get more exposure and a film when the main character is a boy (compare Percy Jackson and the multitudes of movies made from "boy books" to what, Twilight, The Golden Compass, and the Princess Diaries? What else besides those three? Not many. Yes there are bad YA books with bad characters. And yes, a lot of boy characters will fall into those types, but those types are the kind of boy a teenage female would know.

"Put covers on books, no matter the gender of the main character, that boys will not be embarrassed to read on the subway."

Most authors don't get to decide what goes on the cover, and I don't like that you're shaming covers that happen to be pink or have a girl on them.

And as I said, we read so many books with a teenage male protagonist in school. The Catcher and the Rye, the Red Fern, Shiloh, just to name some. All of those are still YA.

Sean Wills said...

1) The gay best friend. The gay best friend is sassy. He's also deeply damaged and vulnerable from the trauma of being gay. The girl--our main character, always--might be his only friend. He desperately needs her. Maybe he has a drug problem due to his inner torment.

This archetype (scratch that, stereotype) needs to go away.

PEOPLE: Making your minority (racial, orientation or otherwise) character 'sassy' and nothing else does not add depth to them. It does not demonstrate how politically correct and 'with it' you are. It is cheap and lazy writing.

what is this I don't even said...

This is a pretty ridiculous argument. I appreciate that you acknowledge that boys are never encouraged to try female-centric YA lit but how do you not realize that that itself is part of the problem? How do you not realize that it's no ~*mystery*~ why young boys would skip the female-dominated YA lit section and go directly to the androcentric adult fiction section due to the so many sexist assumptions inherent in society about females and, indeed, works produced by females? The problem needs to be solved by confronting the societal views at large about the devaluation of females. This is not even getting in the effect of internalized sexism (amongst other hurtful -isms) present in novels with female protagonists that go far from empowering any girl (I shouldn’t have to mention it, but Twilight, anyone?).

I had to laugh at your handwringing over how haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaard it is for (obviously assumptive white, cisgendered, heterocentric, able) YA boys to find such “limited” archetypes about their experiences when I know that so many other YA readers have to deal with so many inherently sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic/ableist/triggering issues and sterotypes when encountering characters and books that are supposed to be about their own experiences and POVs (if such even exist at all). There is nothing revolutionary in your rally to restore the androcentric status quo of Western literature.

Also, I wanted to point out your comments:

“I'm suggesting that we need more books from the male POV--and I fully intend that these books will have strong female characters in them as well--and more books from female POVs that flesh out the male characters to the extent that we flesh out the females.”

“Having books with strong males is something that will benefit both boys and girls.”

This just makes me wonder if you are perhaps new to YA lit or if you sadly suffer from an understocked library. I know our reading interests do differ (you mention you don’t read much SF/F and I now primarily read YA lit with a SF/F bent and female protagonists at the forefront) but I know enough from what I’ve encountered and from what my younger male family members are picking up to know that this kind of statement makes no sense, given the plethora of (highly popular) male character-centric fare out there. If you think that boys are still not saving the world in YA lit, I honestly have to conclude that you must not be reading much at all.

But thanks for the laughs. XD

N said...

"--I am female, sex and gender alike."
is that really necessary?

"And I get that we need to empower girls, people. I get it. But how many books about girls do we need before we can consider that a job well done?"
You really don't get it. Books with female characters are not deviating from the (male) norm to make a political statement. You're still looking at books about girls as something for a special interest group, rather than just as normal as books about dudes.

By your logic, we should have stopped writing male characters a long time ago, since there have been plenty of books about men since we started making books.

Sean Wills said...

To the above anon:

You really don't get it. Books with female characters are not deviating from the (male) norm to make a political statement. You're still looking at books about girls as something for a special interest group, rather than just as normal as books about dudes.

Yes she does get it, because that's the exact point she was trying to make. 'Empowering girls' (or anyone else for that matter) is not the same thing as turning them into a separate 'class' of reader.

Anonymous said...

But why can't boys read books about girls? Why is that so hard?

Anonymous said...

‘When, since Eragon, have boys gotten to save the world?’

To be able to say such a thing with a straight face you must be living on a different planet than the rest of us, apparently, but here on Earth the answer is:

/Always/.

Look at just about any movie, any graphic novel, any book, any television show -- any STORY, period. Chances are the protagonist is male, not to mention white, heterosexual, and cisgender as well. If not, you can bet there's going to be more than a few strong male supporting characters to make up for it. You said it yourself -- if boys aren't finding characters they can relate to in YA, all they have to do is head on over to the adult fiction section and the problem is solved. There is no shortage of stories about boys out there.

'Girl stories', on the other hand, are still and have always been considered trivial and insignificant. Women are told, again and again, that men simply cannot ‘relate’ to female characters, despite the fact that girls have been forced to identify with male protagonists in literature and film for centuries. You can find this sentiment echoed even by the commenters here -- Ky dismisses female-centric stories as mere ‘girl drama’, while AJ snubs books written for ‘dramatic/emotional girls’. You make these points about how ‘female empowerment’ is leading to the apparent disempowerment of males -- but if you look around you, really LOOK at the stories we’re being marketed, everywhere from the bookstore to the movie theatre, you’ll see that this mystical ‘female empowerment’ thing you speak of is extremely rare in our society, to say the least. As a teenage girl myself, I can attest to how impossibly /hard/ it is to find fictional girls I can really relate to and root for. It’s discouraging, especially when the experiences of myself and every girl I know are constantly hand-waved away by well-meaning, small-minded people who insist, “Can’t you see sexism is OVER? Women can vote now! Women can have careers, sometimes! Never mind the fact that one in three American women will be raped or beaten at some point in her life, never mind the fact that, when it comes to gender, there is still no such thing as equal pay for equal work in any nation on this earth, never mind the absolutely disgustingly small numbers of strong, compelling, independent female characters in fiction -- Sexism is CLEARLY over, so quit whining and let’s focus on something MUCH more important and oft-overlooked: empowering MEN!”

I hope that, inside, your beliefs aren’t as ignorant as that, but I’ve heard the equivalent of this far too many times, from far too many people. Anyone who thinks that the current state of female characters in fiction is acceptable needs to open their eyes and take a good hard look at the world around them, because they evidently haven’t been paying attention. Go look up statistics for ‘women in the media’, ‘women in movies’, etc., and you’ll understand what I mean. Clearly, boys are not the ones hurting for role models here. No wonder they don’t seem to be reading YA -- they don’t need to be.

(to be continued in the next comment -- I have a lot to say here, the character count cut me off, sorry. XD)

Anonymous said...

(this is the anon continuing her comment from before)

For girls, it’s different. YA is one of the only areas, if not THE only area, where a girl can read a story about another girl she can identify with. It’s still not a perfect genre, not even close, as there are still far, /far/ too many stories focused on unhealthy romances and girls who would thoughtlessly sacrifice everything they have to impress a man (Twilight being one of the really heinous examples here), but it’s the best we’ve got. Yes, YA books are often empowering to girls. Yes, sometimes, the boys of YA are not the ones saving the world. This is not a problem. If anything, this is the solution to a problem. Not a complete solution, there’s a lot to be said for why it is that stories featuring women are so often relegated the the ‘young adult’ section, rather than adult, or ‘chick lit’, as opposed to just ‘lit’. Books about girls are still considered to be lesser, ~special interest~ stories, a niche category, and they always have been. I hope that one day people will understand that, yes, boys can respect girls, and boys can identify with girls, just the same as girls have been expected to identify with the boys of fiction for so long. One day, maybe our stories won’t be told so exclusively in the YA section, but that fictional characters of every gender in /every/ genre will be portrayed fairly and accurately as three-dimensional, individual human beings.

That day is not today, however, and until we get to that point, there’s some real good being done with female characters in YA. No one is disempowering boys here -- if anything, teaching them to understand and care about the lives led by people of the opposite sex can only enrich the lives of boys and girls alike. Taking such a reactionary stance to the advancement of women in fiction is only going to hurt everyone involved. If you want to talk about mis- and underrepresented groups, then go right ahead. Let’s talk.

Let’s talk about characters of color.

Let’s talk about trans characters.

Let’s talk about gay and lesbian characters.

Let’s talk about girls.

But please, enough about the poor oppressed straight white cis boys for once. Mr. Honky Heterosexual has saved the world more than enough times.

There’s nothing wrong with letting the rest of us have a chance to shine.

Sean Wills said...

Look at just about any movie, any graphic novel, any book, any television show -- any STORY, period. Chances are the protagonist is male, not to mention white, heterosexual, and cisgender as well. If not, you can bet there's going to be more than a few strong male supporting characters to make up for it. You said it yourself -- if boys aren't finding characters they can relate to in YA, all they have to do is head on over to the adult fiction section and the problem is solved. There is no shortage of stories about boys out there.

Excuse me while I bang my head against a table.

I think someone needs to stop, take their finger off the Single Issue Button, and re-read the damn post.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me while I join you with the head-banging, Sean.

I'm sorry, but you're the one who could use a little practice in reading comprehension -- my point is that boys are plenty empowered. Pick up any story, chances are it'll be about a boy, or at least have 'empowered male characters' in it. This is the norm, it's what people are used to. People are not, however, used to 'empowered female characters' like the ones that appear in some YA titles. That's what I have a problem with -- finally, girls have a space where they can read about other girls, and it's under attack for being 'disempowering' to boys. Putting girls in the spotlight for ONCE is not 'disempowering' in any way. Boys aren't going to suddenly become some stereotyped, oppressed minority just because, sometimes, in some genres, girls get to save the world.

Boys can handle reading stories about strong girls.

Really, they can.

If girls can be forced to read literature that demeans them and relegates them to the 'two-dimensional love interest role', surely boys can take interest in stories that are, for ONCE, about people other than themselves.

hannah said...

All right, guys. Let's not devolve into insults, please.

I don't have time to respond to each post individually, but please understand that I am reading and hearing all of your points. Many of you are listing other topics that need to be discussed--yes, absolutely. But they're not the ones I am addressing here, and I have to ask you to please respect that I am not dismissing these issues by not including them in this post. They just aren't what this post is about.

Also, everyone's points about boys being heavily represented in other genres and other mediums are very valid--but again, not what I am discussing here.


Also--"Most authors don't get to decide what goes on the cover, and I don't like that you're shaming covers that happen to be pink or have a girl on them."

I don't believe I ever said that, and as an author I'm fully aware of this fact. You'll see that this portion of the post is directed to readers, publishers, and writers alike.

I need to ask that everyone please take the time to read the entire post before deciding it offends them, and that they please seek out other posts on this subject before deciding I'm fabricating the issue. I'm not saying that my theories or solutions on/for the lack of boy-centric YA are in any way universal, but it is, as far as I know, a fact that there are less YAs for boys and a large percentage of teenage male readers not reading YA, and please point out articles to the contrary if you see them.

I am also not saying that I believe all boys should read YA, but that I believe the option should be open to them. I am also not saying that boys should be expected or allowed to read only books with male protagonists. But again--I think that should be an option for them, and my point of view is that there are not enough for them.

I don't feel at this point that I need to apologize or deviate from anything I said in my post, but I remain open to discussion. But I'll warn you that I'm going to keep rehashing these same points as long as long as you all do the same.

Sean Wills said...

Yes, and that was part of the point of the original post. Look, here it is:

I'm not okay with boys indefinitely refusing to read books with a girl's point of view.

It's a serious issue - I would wager one of most serious issues anyone considering the face of popular culture today needs to consider - but it is a different one.

The fact that YA is a much-needed haven for strong female characters does not mean we as writers should just throw up our hands and let the relative dearth of well-written boy characters pass by unchallenged. That would be like suggesting that YA as a publishing category excuses the fact that the (adult) Fantasy sections in most bookstores are filled with covers depicting chainmail-bikini clad sex objects in place of real women.

There are stories - probably excellent stories - that should be getting put out there and aren't. It's a tragedy if the only reason for their neglect is that YA publishers don't think they can afford to publish books that are made to appeal to boys, especially if those books cannot find a home elsewhere - as is so often the case with YA fiction.

hannah said...

Thank you, Sean.

Anonymous said...

Where, exactly, is this lack of strong male characters you keep pointing out? As many people have brought up already, there is no such thing. Men still dominate YA lit and every other media. It seems that what's getting people angry here is the idea that the visibility of strong female characters is somehow emasculating their male counterparts -- who are, despite what you keep insisting, no more badly-written than the girls of YA.

On that note, why do boys need to read YA in the first place? You seem to understand the idea that, as boys, /every/ genre of /every/ media is wide-open to them, if they're not liking what they're seeing in YA.

Only looking at this issue from your own point of view is the complete opposite of being 'open to discussion'. There are larger forces at work here shaping your belief that boys are somehow being 'disempowered' by YA lit, and that it is the job of YA authors to cater specifically to what boys want, rather doing their best to make an enjoyable and interesting story that appeals to everyone.

But then again, I suppose if you looked at this 'issue' objectively, it'd be a lot harder for you to manufacture a problem and promote your own writing as the solution.

hannah said...

Haha, okay.

Anonymous said...

I'm serious about those questions I asked -- I'd genuinely like to hear your thoughts and any answer you might have.

But, so much for being open to discussion, I guess?

hannah said...

I'm letting you post here anonymously. I'm reading all the comments and considering them. The fact that I'm not backing down from my point of view does not mean I'm not open to discussion. But I'm not going to be baited by allegations that I'm doing this to sell books. I've said in previous posts that this blog isn't selling books. And I'm okay with that. It's not the point of the blog.

But am I going to pretend that the fact that I write books with male main characters doesn't color my opinion of the issue? Of course not. It's important to me because they are the books that I love.

So okay, I'll answer your questions one by one, but I seriously don't think I'm going to have the answers you want, because I still stand by my original post. But I'll try to elaborate any way I can, and even if we still disagree, maybe that'll help us at least better understand each other's points, because I'm fully aware that, aside from what I think are some unnecessary barbed comments, you're making good points.

So here we go.

--"Where, exactly, is this lack of strong male characters you keep pointing out?" Documented, visible, and true. Take a look at your YA section. You'll see a lot of headless girl covers (which is the subject of a different post), and covers with boys on the front usually depict a love interest. I'm not saying, at all, that books with strong main characters do not exist. But I do believe that most YA books feature boys as merely foils for the main (female) character. Men probably do dominate every other media; that sounds valid. But I disagree that they dominate YA, and, like I said, the other medias are not the subject of this post.

It's a completely valid issue, but it's just not the subject of this post. There are a million valid issues out there tangentially related to what I'm saying. But that would have been a very long post.

--"On that note, why do boys need to read YA in the first place?" I addressed this really early up in the comments, actually, if you want to take a look. Not trying to be passive aggressive, I just think I said most of what I have to say on this up there, so really I'd just be cutting and pasting. Boys don't need to read YA. But I like YA. I think it's important. And of the boys I know who do read YA (there are of course some), some of them have found it really helpful. So I'd hate to deprive other people of that.

And like I've said a lot in the comments--though, admittedly, not in the post itself--books with strong main characters are really helpful for girls as well, and I love books from male points of view personally. So this post is really more about my opinions as a reader and not a writer.

Cool?

--

Redikolous said...

http://community.livejournal.com/enchantedinkpot/62920.html#cutid1

Maybe also the fact that there is a clear distinction between say, romance, chick lit, and YA? Where would an "adult" historical novel with no romance/sex or adult themes go? Because to go in romance or chick lit it has to have romance. It might go in general, maybe. Very rarely, Literature. Whereas a book with a male protagonist who saves the world definitely goes in thriller, action, general, sci-fi, fantasy, all depending on the atmosphere, setting, detailed premise. That's why it's not a bad idea to send a teenage boy into the "adult" sections of sci-fi and fantasy (where a lot of classics that were written for children are shelved like Ender's Game). What do you think happens to a black boy or girl who wants to read about a black protagonist? It may not be your focus (or rather, problem) but the problem is a lot worse for us, because a white boy will be reading young adult stories about teenage white boy protagonists in their class and analyzing them and affirming their value, where a book for them is either too controversial or complicated (Alice Walker, Toni Morrison) or trashy (Sistah Soulja).

I like how you assume I didn't read the piece.

"Most authors don't get to decide what goes on the cover, and I don't like that you're shaming covers that happen to be pink or have a girl on them."

I said that in response to:

"Put covers on books, no matter the gender of the main character, that boys will not be embarrassed to read on the subway."

Authors cannot put those covers on, and basically, the problem is not the industry, it's society.

I just don't see the problem. Girls buy more books, and ever since books for young females have been coming out, authors and publishers HAVE BEEN taking their male books to the "adult" (I keep putting it in quotes because it's really not) sections of sci-fi, horror, thrillers, action, western, GENERAL, etc. You see? Unless you're talking about "non-genre" stuff alone, which again, covers a lot of books that become Newbery Medal winners and are affirmed as classics and read in school. The "problem" you're talking about is relatively recent. Twilight really blew it open, and so people are writing for girls because it can be done and the audience is truly underserviced*, and other books tend to be taken to the genre sections, where they can be sold to young and older men. Where it's not uncommon for a lot of YA readers to be women, and writers (Meg Cabot for instance) who write chick lit and young adult.

*If you are a teenage girl whose parents don't allow you to read explicit content, and you want to read fiction with a female protagonist, you got classics, genre fiction, and...that's it basically. If you're smart enough and up to it, there are certain literary titles you can read, but who says you're going to identify? The vast majority of romance is out, except for certain lines like religious ones. It's still an issue if your parents are on top and know about YA fiction, a lot will still be closed out.

Redikolous said...

Also, I should mention, there were a lot of literary stories that I wasn't ready for and could not relate and comprehend fully like Young Adult books until I got older. I'm not saying that GIRLS ARE DUMB LOL but I'm saying that if a teenage boy and a teenage girl were given a bit of money and let out, a girl would come home with young adult books, maybe some manga and girl focused magazines, and maybe an Austen or Bronte book if they're that nerdy, or a fantasy or two (which prolly has a male protagonist), but a boy would come home with a bunch of fantasy, sci-fi, western, comics, manga, etc., almost all of which has male protagonists. That's why people are wondering where the problem is, that there is just one genre that isn't aggressively marketed towards boys, especially where a lot of minorities are shut out at most levels.

hannah said...

Redikulous--totally true on that last point, and nothing I'd ever even considered. That's really interesting.

I actually agree with everything you said. And I made a conscious choice not to talk about race in this post, which you're totally allowed to disagree with, but my explanation for myself is that there a lot of posts (FANTASTIC posts) already discussing race, and I don't have much to say that hasn't been said. I could write a damn good post about the representation of Jews in YA (and maybe I will, in the future) but again, not this post.

And I honestly apologize if, by not writing about it, I've made it sound like the boy thing is a bigger issue than the race thing. It really, really isn't. This is just the conversation that I felt I could better add to right now.

And I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on the subject of whether or not this is a problem. I hate to play this card, but you can see from a lot of these comments that there are a lot of people who agree with me and would like to see more male characters. So there is a desire for them.

And one quick point:

"Authors cannot put those covers on, and basically, the problem is not the industry, it's society."

I disagree on the industry point (though of course society plays a role, but I think that, by the amount of people speaking up against book covers, it's the industry's faulty assessment of society--particularly teenage society--that's the problem). But again, I'm really not blaming authors for these covers. That's the part of the post addressed to writers, publishers, and readers, with different points for each, and I'm sorry if it wasn't clear who I was referring to on that post, but I absolutely know that writers have no control over covers. I've been through the process.

hannah said...

Oh, and thank you for the link--it's awesome to see that there are a lot of speculative fiction books for boys. I will admit that I am not well-versed in spec at all, and I probably should have kept my post focused on contemporary, which is what I know best. Not saying that there aren't contemporary books for boys, just that I'm more familiar with that market and more aware of an unbalance there.

Jana said...

I haven't read all the comments so I am not sure if anyone else put this on here but this article spotlights a bunch of covers from books released this year. As one author (Rick Riordan) pointed out, how many of these covers would appeal to a teenage boy reader?

But it's funny that a lot of middle grade books have male MCs, then they are supposed to jump right up to adult books. It is a gap for a lot of male readers.

Jana said...

I forgot the link:

http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/shelftalker/?p=1581

hannah said...

Wow, Jana, thanks for the link.

Deniz Bevan said...

What's with calling fans of Austen and the Brontes nerdy?

Alainn said...

I think this is a great post hannah with a lot of interesting points.

I agree part of the problem is that YA is so obviously marketed towards girls. It makes sense from a marketing point of view since girls spend the most money in YA but it kind of terrifies boys.

The adult section in a book store is big enough that with the covers all spread out guys feel comfortable shopping there. Yeah, there's a whole bunch of pink 'girly' covers two shelves down but there are boy books over here so that's okay.

YA is a lot smaller so the girl covers can overwhelm. Eventually all you see are the pink headless girls even though there are great boy books in between them.

And since most guys (at least that I know) don't feel reading is cool word of mouth takes a lot longer to spread.

I work at a book store and I'm pretty sure the only reason teen boys ask me about YA is because I'm there age and it's not as hard to ask me than a fourty year old woman (although ime she probably is reading YA). And when boys are done with Alex Rider and Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Pendragon and Percy Jackson and Artemis Fowl and all of these amazing series for boys that have come out in the last five years I have very little to give them.

At least, very little they will take.

Even when you do suggest a book a lot of the time it's the cover that closes the deal- which makes sense. This is true for all readers- boy, girl, young, old.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld- war, check- boy POV, check- stuff blowing up, check. Cover with cool looking gears on the cover- done deal.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld- dystopian, cool- hoverboard chases, awesome- girl POV, well it's third person soo...

Random girl on cover- NO.

I'm actually hoping that ebooks help a little with the cover embaressment because HEY NO ONE CAN TELL WHAT YOUR READING IT'S OKAY BOYS.

And one thing I didn't really think about before was how much girls would benefit from realistic three dimensional male characters. It's so true. I think it's just as important for readers to look past the typical boy stereotypes as it is for them to look past the typical girl stereotypes.

Jana said...

Once I got to thinking about this my mind could think of dozens of MG series geared towards boys or with boy MCs--and I know many, many girls who read these. But, I couldn't come up with an equal number of MG series for girls (not stand alones--series). Then it totally seems to flip when it comes to YA. Do girls mature faster in their reading and move up to YA quicker than boys?

hannah said...

Jana--that's a really good theory. I don't have any idea, really, but you're definitely right that the situation seems reversed in most other genres. The goal is obviously equality in all genres (except maybe ones like romance and maybe sci-fi...but I don't know enough about them to make judgments), I just focus on YA because it's what I know.

That being said, I'm really interested in MG, since I just started writing that, and I'd love any information anyone has. I'm still an MG n00b.

Babbling Brooke said...

I think another reason boys aren't reading YA right now is because of all the vampires. Many authors are seeing Twilight's success and are writing books about vamps, trying to gain similar success. Teenage guys are going into the YA section and are the over abundance of vamp books. Most of the teenage guys I know don't want to read vampire books.

Of course, not all authors are writing vampire books, but many are.

Maybe, once the vampire craze dies down and authors move on to something else, guys will start reading more YA.

Anonymous said...

hannah, the way you handled EVERYONE'S opinions is graceful. This could easily have degenerated into 'Fuck You' war. You're FUCKING awesome.

Personally, I haven't seen many REAL boys in contemporary YA lit. Being friends more guys than girls, I know that they want those books, too. They grew up reading J. D. Salinger, S. E. Hinton, etc. But contemporary sort of runs dry after that for boys... We do have gem authors like John Green, David Levithan, Rachel Cohn, Laurie Anderson, and Hannah Moskowitz! They write strong male characters--not necessarily male POVs. They empower both genders.

I mean how kick-ass are Jonah AND Naomi?

And yeah, I know guys that are jerks, but I know just as many guys that are DECENT HUMAN BEINGS. Just like everyone else. They're nice and they're crazy and they're real and they're flawed and they're diverse. Just like girls. And they DO want contemporary books along with the SF/F. And girls want some SF/F starring them along with the contemporary YA. The Hunger Games and Graceling are good steps in that direction. Boys and girls both have a wide array of interests. Sexism has been called on boys, but it also needs to be called on girls. Damn straight, hannah.

For the most part, I write teen boys. But I also write teen girls. Teens lounging in the park, Paki-American teens, junkies, rich teens, poor teens. Any teen--as long as they're a real teen. But writing boys doesn't mean I strip the girls down. The point is to make both genders 3D in as many areas of the media, of writing, as possible. To offer a WIDE selection.

I'm sorry for rambling. Really. I love you all.

hannah said...

I love YOU, Anon.

Ellen said...

What a tremendous post. Thank you.

I have two teenage sons and one preteen daughter, and you're so right that the boys don't read YA.

For my middle one, the problem is that he likes action/adventure books (not sf/f), and there are precious few of them. He already read (and loved) every single one and he's hungry for more.

I suspect there are a lot of young men out there like my son, and I wish more people were writing/publishing this category in YA ...

Carol Newman Cronin said...

Thanks for the great post. And try my two YA books, "Oliver's Surprise; A Boy, A Schooner, and the Great Hurricane of 1938" (Gemma, 2008) and its sequel, "Cape Cod Surprise: Oliver Matches Wits with Hurricane Carol" (Gemma, 2010). Hopefully you'll find Oliver real, 3D, and not a stereotype... I look forward to hearing your opinion.

Anonymous said...

WAHT ABOUT TEH BOIIIIIIZZZ?!?!?!?!

What the other anon, the one who's handing you and your fans (especially the mothers of GoldenSons) your butts on a silver platter, said.

Oh, and Remilda? You are profoundly ignorant. When the thousands of unreported/unprosecuted rapes that happen every year -- never mind the ones caught on videotape whose perpetrators are acquitted -- get half as much attention as the Duke Lacrosse case; when men who publicly dispute women's ability to do science don't get soapboxes at national newspapers, Ivy League universities and presidential administrations; when women make as much as men do across the board; when most men do their share of housework and childcare; when women's bodily autonomy is a given, rather than challenged by lawmakers and religious groups as a matter of course; when news organizations don't gloss the misogyny over when George Sodini and his ilk go on woman-shooting sprees...THEN you can whine about how "feminism has gone too far."

hannah said...

Hey. No name calling. I'm fucking serious.

Ms. Yingling said...

You make many valid points. I work with middle grade students, and do have selected YA lit for 8th graders, and I don't think it's true that boys don't read YA. I think they need to be encouraged. There is more YA out there for girls, but there is more coming out for young men. I would link to this post, because of the good comments, but th language is a bit strong for my audience. I don't think it's necessary even for adult fiction to use vulgar language. I will certainly read your books, but may not buy them for my library.

HWPetty said...

So maybe you'll think this is a little off-topic, or maybe a topic for another blog...

But sometimes I think our girls get sanitized a little too. With the crossover audience that has materialized in YA, sometimes I think we expect our girl characters to be held to a higher maturity than befits their age.

And that's fine for some characters and some stories. But not every 16 or 17 year old thinks about how her decisions affect other people, or makes the right decisions, even if it means a bad consequence for herself. I've seen it in critique groups, beta reads, even agent/editor comments--that somehow if a character isn't noble, unselfish, or always focused on doing what's right, that translates as "unlikeable" to some. If a girl jumps into the arms of a new boy the day after a breakup, that's somehow unbelievable behavior (cuz at 16, I knew all about being on the rebound... um... well, not really) or she doesn't understand "real" love.

Sometimes I think even our girl characters are expected to act more like 20-24 year olds than their true age.

I guess, my point is that maybe this isn't really the gender war that people make it out to be. Maybe as YA fiction writers, we need to be careful not to fall victim to the homogenization of ALL of our characters, whether that be in gender, race, orientation, or any other aspect that goes against some perceived societal norm.

hannah said...

HWPetty--that is a really, really fantastic point.

Anonymous said...

I am male, 25 years old. I'm white.

For fun, I just took a look at the books I bought or borrowed this year.

Men saving the world in epic fantasy happens in most of the books I bought this year. Female characters with agency in them: 0. Yes, 0. Zero in a dozen books. Still damsels. No world saved by a girl. At all.

There are other books I bought. Thrillers, those semi-historical ones. Conspiracy stuff, action stuff. Number of female characters with agency: 1. Among two dozen. She still was second to a male character.

In fact, in every genre that isn't YA, or Romance, it's rare to find even one female character that actually has agency.

And even YA is hardly all girls.


Honestly, we men can deal. Why did we raise men to be such sissies that we can't handle a pink book? If I like a book and it's pink, I read it. And if people whine, I can handle it. I have enough men to look up to everywhere, but when I want female characters, I have to go to YA or to anime (or romance, but I do not like medival Romance, I admit. Nobles bore me to tears).

Don't take this away. We men are NOT generally whiny sissies who can't handle reading about women. That argument is a thing that people, especially in the United States, SAY, but it isn't true. I know this from every fandom I am in, and from my friends. Usually, stories with female main characters are sought, but rarely found. Many went to manga for it, eventually.

It would benefit us to read MORE about female characters, not less. We do NOT need even more male characters pushed into every story.

Why? Because it encourages lazy thinking, it encourages the belief in inequality, because it is intellectually dishonest, and, mainly, because it's boring. If we want male characters, we can find them. It's very hard to find female ones. This is an argument you just cannot deny, because it is simply, plainly, and obviously true. Men are main characters in every genre and every media, except very few ones. This is objectively true and easy to prove, as sad as it is.

Once we actually have a parity and stories in all genres have a wide range of genders, sexualities, genders, and races covered, we can take a look at YA (tho I wouldn't worry, men are very well represented in YA in reality, the ones who need representation in YA are minorities)


Give men some credit, please. The meme that men cannot identify with women, or cannot enjoy PINK is a big fat lie. It's just patently false.

And if your son can't handle female characters? It may be time to tell your son that the world doesn't just have (white) men doing stuff, and everyone else having stuff done to them. Trust me, they'll be able to cope with the world a lot better. And they WILL cope. Men aren't generally so stupid they need total pampering, tyvm.

YA said...

Anon--Thanks for your opinions and for stating them in a respectful way. Really appreciate it.

I still think you're missing some of what I'm saying--I'm not excusing boy who will not read books with female main characters. Absolutely not, and I said that in the original post. But I do believe that they should have the option, and I believe girls should have the option as well. And I think girls benefit from reading boys just as well as boys benefit from reading boys. And, yes, they read guys in school, but those are men and they are old books and that is different.

So many girls want to be inside the heads of teenage guys. I know I still do.

Re. the cover thing--it's seriously awesome that you and your friends will pick up a book with a pink color.

Most of my friends will, too.

I know a lot of boys who won't.

As I've said in a lot of these comments, I totally agree that men are overrepresented in most other genres and mediums. But they aren't what this post is about.

And minority issues are extremely important. But they're not what this post is about. Period, end of story, and I'm not going to apologize for not mentioning them here. Those are very important issues that have been written about countless times, and chances are very good I'll write about them in the future. But it just isn't the focus of this post. AIDS is really important too; I didn't mention that either. It doesn't mean I'm dismissing it. It just means that I'm focusing in on one topic for this post.

And I think it's important.

BTW, a general comments: I'm reading THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE-LANDAU BANKS by E. Lockhart right now, and I've been thinking it's a great example of what I mean when I say that I don't believe strong male characters devalue strong female characters in any way. Every fucking one of the characters in this book is three-dimensional, and it's from a very realistic--in my opinion--girl's point of view. It also says a lot of interesting stuff about gender roles...basically, I'm really enjoying this book, and I think it says a lot about how strong female characters and strong male characters are not the enemies people seem to think they are.

My goal is NOT to stop the flow of strong female characters. My goal is to coexist.

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous who asked why boys even have to read YA: it's the 'young adult' section, not the 'young female adult' section. If the genre should only cater to girls, it shouldn't present itself as a genre for all teens.

I'm a feminist, and I agree totally with Hannah's points. I've read YA rather exhaustively these last two years, and the vast majority of YA males are two-dimensional cardboard characters that serve as foils for the female love interest. I don't know if it's the influence of chicklit/romance writers who see more money in YA than in their old genres, or what could be responsible-- but I find myself longing for more novels about male characters simply because those are the ones that downplay men with 'crooked smiles' and 'soulful eyes'. Edward Cullen is as objectifying to men as those chainmail bikini clad women in the sci-fi section are.

hannah said...

(sorry about that--that YA up there is me)

hannah said...

Anon, thank you. I didn't mention in the original post how important strong male characters are for female readers, too, and I really regret that. It's a very important argument.

Glen Akin said...

All these anons ...

Ok. This blog post is dead on accurate. No one's asking authors to stop writing female protag YA books, just that the male characters should be less one-dimensional and more human. If you're going to give the female characters the human treatment, give the guys the same too. I don't understand how this is such a difficult concept for some people to comprehend.

Writing believable male characters won't take away women's rights and send women back to the dark ages. Jeez.

Personally, I have no problem reading YA books with female protags. The problem I have with these books is the male characters. Just once, man, just make the male characters less stereotypical. That's what Hannah's post is saying. No need for all this: "But men have EVERYTHING. Fuck them! They own the cinemas, the graphic novels, the manga comics, the TV shows, and they're presidents! Why should they be allowed to touch our precious YA? Fuck them all!"

Dude. No need for that.

Sarah Harian said...

To Hannah, Glen, and the Anonymous poster above me.

I love you all. Really.

I'm a feminist 100%. I love books that empower females more than ever. But Hannah's post isn't about eliminating those books, and I don't get the people who are trying to turn it into that. I mean,SERIOUSLY? Do we even need to have this argument, or is this argument for the sake of arguing?

We are talking about YA here, people. NOTHING ELSE. Not your adult market, not the movie market, but YA. And yeah, I do know a shit ton of guys afraid to pick up a YA book because they, in no shape or form, can relate to the male characters.

And, the most important fact: GIRLS NEED REALISTIC BOY CHARACTERS AS MUCH AS BOYS DO. Poor guys. You think it's easy having to compete with the image of Edward Cullen? Do you think teenage boys would breathe a sigh of relief if their girlfriend brought home a best selling novel that realistically portrayed a boy? Sure, there are books out there! Of course! But not enough people know about them. And we have to fix that.

hannah said...

Love you too, babe.

Sarah Harian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Puss in Boots said...

Thanks for making me feel good about what I'm working on right now. :)

Alison said...

I think you may be confusing the results with the problem and missing what's really going on.

IF there aren't as many male characters in books classified as "YA," it has more to do with the ghettoization of genre fiction about women (particularly girls) than about what's actually being written. A book about a teenaged male protagonist has a shot of being marketed to a mainstream (adult) genre audience. A book about a teenaged female protagonist will invariably be considered of interest to no one but other teenaged girls and classified as such.

Women write YA books because it may be the only viable market for young women characters.

Synova said...

I'm surprised to find myself agreeing with your post. My only real disagreement is in viewing skipping to adult fiction as a tragedy. I don't know what it is about YA that has to be gone through. I suppose that's because I mostly skipped it, too.

I don't see the dominance of male POV characters in adult fantasy or science fiction that your other commentators see. And I disagree rather strongly that YA is the only viable market for young women characters, though it may be the only viable market for vapid young women characters.

Certainly girls can save the world.

But if they're going to do that they need to do world saving things.

Patterson's Maximum Ride wasn't bad. I read the first installment of that. Some might fuss that Max was portrayed as a mother-hen but how else other than feeling a responsibility for others does a young woman feel responsibility to save the world? Did boys read the Max Ride books?

A hugely popular science fiction series are David Weber's Honor Harrington novels. No doubt more men read these SF military based books than women do and not a one of them worried about being seen reading a book with a woman on the cover. Weber's current series has a female protagonist wearing an artificial male body and others of his books also feature female protagonists, so this was obviously a winning combo for him.

I have just purchased Grand Central Arena by Ryk Spoor. It's a thick tome by current standards and the primary character and ship Captain is a woman. New author, way over on word count and a woman protagonist... it can't be that much of a violation of genre expectations.

Sarah Hoyt's Draw One In The Dark and Darkship Thieves have female lead characters. DOitD is a paranormal (with a romance) that I defy anyone to say that a boy would not like to read.

Yes, there are a whole lot of SF and fantasy with male protagonists too. Maybe if someone took the books that come out this month and did a POV accounting it would come out that there are more male protagonists than female ones or that novels with alternating POV have some percentage more words given to male POVs. (Taking out ALL paranormals from consideration, of course.) But even if so, the facts are that a female protagonist in SF or fantasy is not a bar of any sort to publication for an author in these genres. Nor is a female name on the cover. It's been a long time since science fiction or fantasy authors felt the need to pick a male pseudonym.

As they say, you can have your own opinions, but not your own facts. The conventions of the genre have to be followed... that's what makes it a genre... but your protagonist can be male, female or an alien and who really cares?

What are the two top movies this week? One action adventure staring a guy and one action adventure staring a girl?

Boys never had much trouble, either, with playing a first person shooter as a female character.

But "shooters" aren't the right sort of thing, are they.

hannah said...

Alison--I really can't say I agree with that assessment, but thanks for your thoughts. "Women's fiction" (which is an entirely different issue) is a thriving genre. And books starring teenagers, no matter the age of the protagonists, are usually YA. But there are things that separate YA from adult other than the age of the protagonists, which is the subject of a different post. But what I'm saying is that, while there are "crossover" books that work for both YA and adult audiences, in general they are distinct categorizations that have nothing to do with gender.

Synova--thanks for your points. Again, I can't speak for adult books and I definitely can't speak for movies. I'm only talking about young adult books here.

Synova said...

Hanna,

I have four teenagers in the house. I gave my son SF books from my shelves after he went through all the Robert Asprin Myth books we could find and most of Piers Anthony's Xanth novels. What both have in common are that they are full of humor and puns. My oldest daughter likes the sorts of novels assigned by English teachers. (Someone has to.) My next oldest daughter likes innocent adventures. She is 15. My youngest daughter, at 13, still likes books with animals in them though lately she's reading Rex Stout. (The Nero Wolfe mysteries written around 1940-60ish.)

What none of them were ever particularly interested in were YA vampire novels. Occasionally I do look at the YA section at the book store or library and I can only agree that there seems to be nothing much at all for boys. The shelves are dominated by books with either girls or vampires on them. (Figuring that Harry Potter, Percy Jackson or Artemis Fowl are younger than YA.) And what there is for girls seems to be going for edgy and shocking.

I looked just yesterday and was pretty shocked (so I suppose trying to be shocking worked) by what seemed to be a paranormal/fantasy romance novel confusing pain for passion that I would find unusual in a mainstream romance novel marketed to adults. But what my teenaged daughter wanted and was looking for was some fun adventure with dragons in it. (I've read more than one analysis that suggested that the largest reason that teen girls adored Edward is that he said "no".)

If my girl children aren't interested in vampire sex I think it's beyond all that's reasonable for some of these people to fuss that boys ought to be willing to read it.

I appreciated your comment that it was all right and good to want to encourage girls but as a consequence that boys have been left with nothing YA to read. A whole lot of girls are left with no YA to read either.

So I wonder if something written for the young men or women who don't want to read about dating or vampire sex or whatever... would it violate the YA genre conventions? I don't do YA so I don't know what the conventions are. If someone wrote a book that took the humor of the grade school or middle school books for boys or the adventure... would the result be a YA book, or would it only be marketed younger or as an adult novel?

What I read as a teenager was Ian Flemming, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Louis L'Amour and the Detective Book Club books I found in a box in the barn. (They had real book worm burrows in them, too.) I don't think anyone had invented YA yet.

hannah said...

Synova,

The whole vampire sex thing is a very new trend, and it is DEFINITELY not all there is to YA. I don't want people to come away from my post with that impression. I don't read a lot of fantasy, but I still love YA, so I can say that there are a ton of fantastic contemporary books out there, most female-centric, too, but also ones with great male leading and supporting characters. So I'm not reinventing the genre, here, just suggesting some additions.

sagelikethespice said...

I was thinking about the comments to this post about why boys can't read books with female MCs in them. And I think the answer isn't, "Well, because they're boys and they won't," but "Well, because they can't identify with the YA section at all, so they don't even pick up books to see if they'd like them." Maybe they *would* read books with female MCs (but probably not the pink ones ;)), but if that's all there is, they're not likely to expect to find a YA book they'll like there because they probably *assume* they know what a book with a female MC will be like. Get them to the section, where they might browse the books and pick up one with an interesting cover and check out the description (like us girls do), and they'll probably be fine with a female MC as long as the book sounds interesting to them. But if they're not in the section, they're not going to pick up that book. And they have to believe there's something for them in that section first.

And for all those people who are like, 'so what if YA is dominated with female MCs because the rest of the store is dominated with male MCs? let the girls have a section of strong female characters," why are you encouraging boys to ignore that section, those books? Get them into the section because of the well-developed male characters, then let them move on to the well-developed female characters. It's not just girls who need to be exposed to strong female characters, and it's not just boys who need to be exposed to realistic male characters

Dave Freer said...

Hmm. Well writers who want to keep a ghetto for themselves should be asking if female humans are really so incompetant they need job reservation. That hasn't been my experience - I know a number of female writers in non-ghetto areas who would win in any measure-of-quality competition. If you want my support in getting equal treatment regardless of color, orientation or stick out/in bits, I'm there. You want it for a little protectionism, well, not only is it self defeating and stupid but the gender doesn't need it. Women are capable. As for the anon. posters who think males should just have to shut-up and put-up because women had to... that's just as dim, because they just won't read it, which actually helps no-one, not males, not females and not society. Besides the people you want to 'punish' are the fathers or grandfathers of these readers. They're dead or not reading YA so revenge is merely vindictive and pointless. All you're doing is invert and perpetuate, which is self-defeating too.

On stereotypes... while I agree that they exist and may have a bad effect on male readers (and female!)I think you have step a little more thoughtfully and ask why? They exist because 1)editors find them desirable 2)At least part of the reading audience is buying them 3)There are some elements of truth in their essence or at least a desire to believe they're true. You can subvert and channel this, but simply ignoring them is like trying to stop the tide coming in by p1ssing against it. You can do something, but probably by subtly shifting and keeping your core audience... and above all getting some male role models to read it (beacuse YA readers are juvenile pack animals mostly, quite insecure about what others think).

Jan Priddy, Oregon said...

I'd argue that the quicker "young adult" readers get to adult fiction, with reasonable exceptions, the better. I think one of the things that's ruined young readers is the degree to which YA books pander to immaturity and navel-gazing—giving them books about themselves. They never learn to expand their world beyond themselves, or that such expansion is even possible, as they would have to reading good, literary adult fiction.

But then again, I've become an English teacher, and you know what sort of books we assign. ;-)

tammy212 said...

I have 26 novels of teen fantasy, all in print. All but one of them have a female hero. But. In one of my universes, two of my girls are knights and one is a cop. They train with boys and men; they work with boys and men; they fight with and against boys and men. (The cop has more women in her training/work pool than the knights.) In those books, it's in some ways hard for me to get more women is as characters. Men are every bit as much a part of the story as my girls; the secondary hero is always a guy, and since I am writing primarily adventure stories, I have guy fans. My other two girl heroes are a mage and a spy, dealing with both sexes more or less equally. In my second universe, my four heroes include one boy; he is probably my most popular character, and there are boys and men among the students that the four mages discover as they grow older. I have no problems writing male characters.

When I was a kid, 7-8 books out of all books written for kids - teens had boy heroes. Those that had girl heroes showed them at "feminine" pursuits, or if they were a little feisty, a male hero had to bail them out by book's end. Only the historical novels had strong girls, and even most of them "settled down" by the end. I was reading "boy books": TREASURE ISLAND, TOM SAWYER, THE THREE MUSKETEERS, Robin Hood, King Arthur, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I didn't understand why there were no girls in the adventure books, so I began to write what I wanted to read: adventure books with girl heroes. I came along at a time when that was what booksellers, parents, and librarians were looking for, and along with some other writers, I found my place in publishing.

Now, whether you believe it or not, 6-7 of the books published for kids - teens still have male heroes. Not much of a change, is it? A study done on picture books recently pointed out that the majority of human characters in those books were men, shown doing active work, while women were shown in domestic settings, doing nurturing tasks. Not operating steam shovels. Not jumping into skies full of clouds to find where they are made.

I'm glad someone gave you a link to current SF, because otherwise I'd be inundating you with that as well. But as to no boy authors on the teen shelves? Maybe we aren't looking in the same places, or in small stores, because I can think of: Gary Paulsen, Walter Dean Myers, Terry Trueman, Chris Crutcher, Robert Parker, Will Hobbs, Roland Smith, Dave Conifer, Brent Hartinger, David Levithan, Ned Vizzini, Dave Lubar, Gordon Korman, Paul Fleischman, Joseph Bruchac, David Klass, Gary Soto ... I'll stop now.

hannah said...

Jan--I think we're on completely different sides of the fence here.

Glen Akin said...

Tammy, Im certain if you listed out all the YA books with girl heroes and all the YA books with boy heroes released in the last 2 years, you'll find the ones with girls outnumber the ones with boys. YA, not MG.

Now, im going back to watch NCIS

hannah said...

Tammy, again, I don't think you'll find anywhere in my post where I say there are NONE. I say there are NOT ENOUGH.

bookflower said...

Okay, so I have a lot of issues with this post, and I'm also left wondering whether I have really weird reading taste. I'm a 17 year old girl who reads, masses.
I'm also a 17 year old girl who doesn't, and never has, read much YA fiction, especially not books with girl protagonists. Why? Because it's all about romance and guys and, well, I want action and swordfights and epic battles and spaceships. I'm all for female empowerment in YA fiction and I don't see much of it. Oh, so there's female POVs and MCs, but there don't seem to be that many books around where the herione doesn't end up with a wonderful guy, where thereisn't a guy by her side ALL the way to saving the world. I'mnot against guys in fiction, I just think our idea of empowerment is, well, skewed. Am I making any sense?
I started reading adult fiction at a ridiculously early age, maybe about 9, with LOTR and Lewis' Space Triolgy. By 12 I'd read the entire Discworld series. I refuse to be defined by age ecpectations. I hate the thought of labelling anything YA. And it has opened my reading spectrum massively. I am so grateul I never kept my reading to the age appropriate books. Anyhow...
It's evident that I devour Sci-fi and Fantasy. There are plenty of YA books for guys out there. How do I know? Because I've read them. Because I'd had to to cater to my tastes in books. It is the female characters in YA SF/F that generally make me feel icky.
I don't read guys' books because I want to get inside their head. I read their books because they get the sort of books that I love!
Please don't stop writing YA SF/F with strong female characters! I feel like you ARE asking us to, Hannah, in telling us to write more for guys. So maybe in the more general section of YA there needs to be, but not everywhere. Don't feel guilty about writing from a female POV!
I know there are so many books out there for boys. Don't give up and refuse to let age ranges define what you read! Yes, not all guys like SF/F and I sympathse with those that don't, but for those that do - there is so much out there for you! Read it and love it!
And, on a slight side not, I'm perfectly fine with reading many books in a male POV. Maybe that's a barrier boys needs to learn to overcome?
Oh, one more thing. What is HP if not YA. Don't try to tell me it's Childrens, please!

hannah said...

bookflower--it's MG.

And please tell me exactly where I said that we should stop writing books with female protagonists.

I'm sorry if I'm getting short, but I'm frustrated that people are incorrectly coming to the assumption that I am trying to completely overhaul YA. I am not. I'm suggesting that we flesh out male characters in YA JUST AS MUCH as girl characters. We're not stopping anything.

hannah said...

Tammy--I want you to know that I saw your blog post, but I don't have an LJ so I can't comment.

I want to thank you, first of all, for stopping by. I'm pretty starstruck.

I'm sorry you got the impression that I'm in any way suggesting that there be fewer books with female MCs. That isn't what I meant to say, and I don't mean, at all, to suggest the fleshing out of male characters at the expense of female characters. I just believe, and stand by my point 100%, that both male and female readers deserve strong male characters just as much--not, more, but *just as much*--as they deserve strong female characters. And what happens in other genres isn't relevant here: I know there are not as many girls in other places. I know it's a problem. It's not what I know well and it's not what I'm addressing.

And to the comments on your posts that I must not read very much--I do, and I'm well aware that there are books with male main characters. I've read almost all of them. I know that they exist. I do not agree that there are enough.

Glen Akin said...

Lol this is so weird, and funny. How did people manage to turn a post about writing believable boy characters into a post about ditching all female characters for only boy characters?

hannah said...

To be honest I really don't know.

Some Screaming Fangirl said...

Wow. Great stuff here. *hits Subscribe button* ;)

kosarin said...

First of all, I should say that I don’t read a lot of YA that isn’t sf/f and recommended by friends (so of course it’s awesome). However, I do have a little sister, and enjoy poking through/furtively finishing in one sitting the books she leaves lying around. But you should clearly take this with a grain of salt!

I’m addressing two of your points. The first problem is that of boys who DO exist in YA fantasy, and how they are often portrayed as two dimensional. But the thing is, a lot of the YA books I’ve seen with this problem seem to have a two dimensional girlfriends as well - yes, even as a main character! I know we keep hearkening back to this example, and it's not fair to the genre at all, but the basic example would be Twilight - what does Bella like other than two books she happened to read in English? What are her interests? We don't know. Now, this is a pretty extreme example, but I often find that interesting characters have interesting love interests no matter their gender, and the two dimensional love interests are really a sign of bad writing that you can see in the protagonist as well. Now, please don’t think I’m trying to say “it’s ONLY bad writing.” Stereotypical representations are bad writing as well (if you are writing a stereotype you aren’t writing a real person) and they have very real, very negative effects on the world. But I don’t see at all how it’s related to the empowering of women, or the assumption that “only girls can do it.” Is it a problem that this level of writing is what writers and publishers think children need/want to read? Yes. But is it an effect of writers in YA only writing about women? I would say not. For the most part, in my experience, if the main female character is a compelling character then the romantic lead/other male characters are as well. (Continued…)

kosarin said...

(…Continued) Which brings us to the other issue, that of most YA fiction being written about women. I get that you’re focusing on YA, and so aren’t addressing the lack of females elsewhere, because you believe YA immensely helped yourself and others, and guys deserve that. I would completely agree! It definitely helped me through my teenaged years, it still does. ☺ But what was the part of YA that helped? It certainly wasn’t the location in the bookstore. I really don’t know how you would answer (and if you did I’m sorry I missed it!) but I would say it was because it dealt with people who were often close to me in age, exploring and struggling with problems me and/or my friends are facing (or wished we were facing☺). It also might be written to a certain reading level, and not go into a lot of detail about things parents might disapprove of. I think one of the reasons that people keep bringing up all the male protagonists in other genres is because while YA is one of the few places that girls can find these things about their experiences, guys can find it in many other genres. Above people have brought up examples (Catcher in the Rye isn’t YA, neither is Ender’s Game…) Bildungsromans about boys are classic literature, but about a girl? PARTICULARLY if gross stuff like periods are involved? YA. I think what people are trying to say is that boys go to adult fiction (and comics) faster because they are able to find the elements that make YA so important there. Girls stay in YA FOREVER (I never went on to adult fantasy because I couldn't identify with/didn't like the female characters I found) because that’s where they can find these things. So I’m not sure those guys that read are missing out because of a lack of YA titles, and I really do think the whole thing has a LOT to do with the saturation of male protagonists in other genres, and not necessarily a lot to do with how writers write their books. Is it silly to call it YA when it’s almost all about girls? Maybe, but I guess that doesn't bother me too much.

But something I find very interesting, but didn’t seem to be addressed here (but hey, it’s 4am here, what do I know) is the reading level necessary to read YA books as opposed to the books in other genres, particularly because boys usually score lower in reading than girls. You addressed this to the boys who DO read, but they can deal with the Tolkien. Maybe boys who don’t usually read could benefit even more from books that are aimed at a lower reading level and clearly labeled young adult. (Actually, I’m not really sure if YA books are aimed at a much lower reading level than the other genres that keep getting mentioned. Yeah, I have no idea.) But the guys that don’t read would probably benefit from all these books of appropriate level being in a section that is easily accessed, as opposed to scattered among other works of “literature” that they might not yet be ready for in terms of technical skills, or a few titles in a sea of pink. :)

So… I guess what I’m saying is that there should be better writing everywhere (I’m not convinced it’s worse in YA than in any other genre) and that while more males in YA wouldn’t be a bad thing, it’s not like the males who read are missing out. Yeah, it might be interesting for guys who are less likely to pick up a book… But getting bookstores/publishers/authors to change things for a population that by definition does not buy books? Good luck ;)

bookflower said...

Sorry, sorry, sorry. Did I go off on something completely irrevelant.
Um, I feel like I'm missing something pretty major, which probably will clear things up for me. What's MG?

tymcon said...

Totally true. I personally skipped to adult fiction for no reason, then i found Alex Rider and glided back to Ya/ or is it middle grade...I think it might be middle grade. Woops.
I thought Garth Nix's Sabrial did a good job for a male character. Well once we actually found out about touchstone.
YES! You said women can be sexist to. Well not exactly, but you definetly said that people can be sexist towards men. Wohoooooooo! (fireworks)
Yeah, i've been saying that to girls i know for years and it's the usual eye-rolling and looks. Oh well.
Very good post. Are you estatic about the number of comments?:P Oh yayyyy i'm one of the few boys on this comment. Well i kind of skimmed the comments, but i think there's onyl one or two. I'll spread the wordXD

rivkaesque said...

One of my favorite authors - who does write a lot of female protagonists - has posted a response that she said she hopes someone directs you to - it is here: http://tammypierce.livejournal.com/40594.html

For myself, I do see your point. I tend to like YA styles, and frequently will still read them. But there is a dearth of books I would say contain primary males. I do think that part of the problem is the artificial demarcations -MG,YA, they're all books, let's just rate them like they do movies and be done with it.

But I wish, as my godson aged, I could point him at age-appropriate books written after the early 90s with male MCs.

sayitwhirly said...

Rivka - Ms. Pierce's comment was responded to up a ways in the comment thread.

Tymcon - Yes, I totally agree that Sabriel was a fantastic example of well-rounded male and female MCs. And for those people saying that you can't find an epic fantasy for female readers, I'd say that isn't true, and that books like Pierce's and Nix's give girls plenty to work with in fantasy. I personally started reading them before moving to adult fiction (I still read YA) and found them solid. I wanted to refrain from mentioning examples of girls in YA SFF because I feel like specific examples, possibly about outliers, aren't very fruitful in a discussion about trends, however, I've simply read too much YA SFF with female protagonists to let that one sit.

Kosarin - You can find bildungsromans written about women, but I don't think you'd particularly want to. Since bildungsromans were all about an immature character becoming societally acceptable, and since in the time period they were popular, women were basically considered pretty objects used to attract men, bildungsromans for women would just emphasize that.

Also, just some thoughts: When you think about it, societal values for what we consider to be masculine haven't changed that much since the 1800s, but we've been reclaiming "feminine" for a long time. I'd like to see the same thing happen to masculinity that happened to femininity. Which is, I think, along the same lines as hannah's original point.

hannah said...

bookflower--MG is Middle Grade, which generally means books for middle schoolers/late elementary schoolers. There's some debate about where Harry Potter is, because of how he ages through the books, but my opinion is MG because of the themes. YA is typically very inward-focused, about independence, personal growth, and maturation, while MG is usually about understanding and fitting into your community. "Saving the world," is a more MG thought than a YA, and even as Harry gets older, it's more of a "wizarding world at large" book than a "let's get inside Harry's head book," so in my mind it stays an MG.

But I don't usually use Harry Potter as an example for anything, because it broke so many rules that it's really impossible to compare to most things.

tammy212 said...

Hannah, I did figure we were pretty much going to agree to disagree, but I'd like to put to you two things that were given to *me* to chew on:

Why is it always the job of women to fix these things?
and
The problem is social. What's needed is not so much more books (though that's always a good thing), but more work with families, boys, and boy culture so that reading is not viewed as a non-masculine activity.

hannah said...

Tammy--

I'm not sure what you mean about he first point. I wasn't directing my post towards women specifically at all. I'm addressing to YA writers as a whole, men and women alike. Are more of us women? Yep. But I'm still not sure what you mean.

And I absolutely, absolutely agree that boys need to learn that there isn't anything masculine about reading.

I have to say one thing, though, and I'm sorry--I've been following your blog post, I'll admit, and I've really been disappointed with some of the comments and some of your responses to them. Suggesting that we "steamroll" writers who right books about boys? I realize you're joking, but how would you feel if the genders were reversed, and that statement came from my mouth instead of yours?

hannah said...

*write books, excuse me.

Robbie (BoywithBooks) said...

OK, I must admit that I scanned a lot of the giant wall of text and skipped all of the comments.

I help to run a YA book club, and while 3/4ths of it is female, we have a lot of avid male readers. They read fantasy, like Graceling. They read The Hunger Games, they read The Compound, they read DJ MacHale, they read a lot of stuff. I'd also point out comic books and graphic novels as another form of YA lit that is devoured almost exclusively by males and not females.

Also, Harry Potter's main theme is death. If that's a children's theme as opposed to a YA one, then I am confused. Adolescent angst, snogging...all these things come across as YA to me, although the series has a crazy high appeal to a wide variety of people.

As for "boys saving the world" or contemp that deals with boys in non-stereotypical ways, look at Surf Mules by G Neri. Dull Boy by Sarah Cross. Hero by Perry Moore, where the main character is a non-sassy gay boy who is also a superhero. Look at MELISSA MARR, which you specifically mention. Melissa Marr's characters are pretty evenly split between males and females, Fragile Eternity and Radiant Shadows both have large portions about male protagonists, and several of the males are omnisexual without being stereotyped.

Robbie (BoywithBooks) said...

Also Another Faust by Daniel and Dina Nayeri. Pretty much anything by Walter Dean Myers. Peeps by Scott Westerfeld. David Levithan. John Green. Brandon Sanderson.

hannah said...

I am not arguing that there are no male protagonists. I'm arguing that there are not a lot, and that, moreso, but of the male protagonists and the male supporting characters tend not to be as developed as their female counterparts.

hannah said...

that word that was but was supposed to be most. SCWBI is wearing me out.

thisviewofmine said...

Why is it a big deal that boys read YA? As long as they're reading I don't see why it matters which genre.

Elizabeth Kaylene (elizawhat.com) said...

I agree that there need to be more boy books. However, I don't think that boys have to read YA. I didn't read YA until I hit my twenties, so why should any boy have to? I just wasn't interested in YA, and maybe that is because at the time, there weren't a hell of a lot of YA books to choose from. So yes, we do need to see more real boy books in the YA section, but boys should be encouraged to read whatever they want to read.

Realistically, the current generation that is being born into this world and the generation that is in school needs parents who encourage their children to read. I've seen firsthand what happens when parents don't read and don't read to their children either; the child doesn't learn how to read, and ends up thinking that books are the enemy.

We need to encourage our children in general to read, and encourage agents and publishers to dig deeper for a better variety of books to put on the market.